The UK Supreme Court gave the expansion of Heathrow Airport Wednesday, allowing the GBP 14 billion (USD 19 billion) plan to move forward after decades of litigation and political disputes.
The Supreme Court ruling overturned an earlier court ruling that blocked the plan on environmental grounds.
Heathrow, the UK’s largest airport, is keen to keep going despite the slump in air traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic that saw it lose its crown as the busiest hub in Europe.
In February, a court ruled the enlargement illegal and ruled in favor of climate change activists. The judge had said that failure to take into account the UK government’s climate change commitments was “legally fatal” for the plans.
A Supreme Court judge told a virtual session on Wednesday that the government had taken climate change commitments into account in shaping airport policy.
“For these reasons, the Court unanimously concludes that the appeal should be allowed. The airports national policy statement is lawful,” Judge Philip Sales said.
Since February, the aviation sector has been hit by the worst downturn ever, meaning Heathrow now has plenty of spare capacity. However, the airport said that one more runway was still vital in the future.
“Demand for aviation will recover from Covid-19, and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany,” a Heathrow spokesman said in a statement
The airport is owned by the Spanish company Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority and the China Investment Corp.
Heathrow is the UK’s largest port by value. The airport has two runways compared to the four in Paris and Frankfurt and the six in Amsterdam. Before the pandemic, there was no room to add new flights.
Heathrow and its supporters argue that Britain’s exit from the European Union makes expansion critical to ensuring the country can increase trade with the rest of the world.
The project has been hotly debated in Britain for almost half a century. The new runway was approved back in 2009 before being scrapped the following year and approved again in 2018.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a long-term opponent of this. As Mayor of London in 2015, he vowed to lie down in front of bulldozers if necessary to halt construction of the third runway.
The recent decision is a setback to the hope of climate fighters to use Heathrow as a test case to develop similar legal challenges for heavily polluting transport, energy or other projects in other countries.
Heathrow said its expansion plan now has to go through a planning process that requires evidence of the expansion to meet UK’s climate change commitments before construction can begin.