Legal Business Blogs

Climate change trumps arguments as Leigh Day halts Heathrow’s third runway

Controversial plans for building a third runway at Heathrow Airport run the risk of being abandoned after campaigners led by Leigh Day proved victorious in the Court of Appeal today (27 February).

The case involved five separate claims against the Secretary of State for Transport, who had been pursuing the policy of creating an invidious third runway at Heathrow Airport. However, the policy was deemed unlawful following a successful appeal which rested on novel arguments around the runway’s potential impact on climate change.

‘The main sensitivity of the case was the Paris Agreement,’ Leigh Day partner Rowan Smith, who successfully represented environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, told Legal Business. ‘We argued successfully that the international agreements made under the Paris Agreement had to be considered regarding the runway. The court emphatically overturned the previous decision.’

In the High Court, challenges to the multibillion-pound scheme were rejected as it was deemed the then transport secretary Chris Grayling had sufficiently considered the environmental concerns in the policy.

However, residents, local councils, environmental groups and London Mayor Sadiq Khan all brought judicial reviews of the government’s decision on the scheme. Moreover, the arguments around the government’s commitments under the Paris Agreement – which unites multiple nations in a commitment to combat climate change – proved to be more persuasive than was initially expected by the unsuccessful parties.

‘In our case we think they were wrong on competition grounds,’ Heathrow Hub representative and DAC Beachcroft partner Christopher Stanwell told Legal Business. ‘That’s why we will be seeking permission to appeal it.’

Heathrow Airport is also among those seeking to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court, though the government has confirmed it would not be appealing – making any potential reversal of the decision more challenging.

The dispute brought together an array of legal advisers. Heathrow Airport was represented by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner partner Tim Smith while Arora Holdings was represented by CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang partners Ashley Damiral and Caroline Hobson. DAC Beachcroft’s Stanwell instructed Brick Court Chambers’ Robert O’Donoghue QC and Emma Mockford as well as No5 Chambers’ Martin Kingston QC.

Meanwhile, The Mayor of London’s in-house team instructed Blackstone chambers’ Ben Jaffey QC and Flora Robertson among others, while Leigh Day instructed Matrix chambers’ David Wolfe QC and Landmark Chambers’ Andrew Parkinson for Friends of the Earth.