Environmentalists sue to block Heathrow Airport's third runway

Bloomberg, AP

Environmental groups have filed lawsuits seeking to thwart expansion at Heathrow airport, with two complaints challenging the U.K. government over its approval of a third runway at the London hub.

Lawyers for Friends of the Earth said Tuesday that they filed a request for a judicial review. The request argues that the third runway plan, which was approved by Parliament in June, violates the U.K.’s climate change policy and doesn’t take account of the Paris climate accord.

Meanwhile lawyers for five local councils near the airport — as well as London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the environmental group Greenpeace — said they had also filed High Court proceedings Monday in a separate case that challenges Heathrow expansion on grounds including air quality, climate change and a “flawed consultation process.”

After decades of delays tied to concerns about extra aircraft noise, increased pollution, the demolition of homes and the impact on roads, construction of the runway could begin as soon as 2021. The new landing strip is expected to open in 2026, lifting annual capacity to 135 million travelers from 2017’s 78 million.

The Department for Transport is “confident in the decision-making process” that led to the approval of Heathrow expansion plans and is “ready to defend it robustly against legal challenge,” a spokeswoman said by email on Tuesday.

The runway was approved as part of a nation policy statement, helping to minimize further procedural logjams, with planning authorities confined to considering elements of the proposal rather than whether it should be built at all.

Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye said in June, when expansion was approved, that he was “not concerned” about possible legal challenges, adding, “You get this with any major infrastructure project and it won’t hold back the planning process.”

Passengers currently face long delays at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport. In a letter Monday to the Times of London, British Airways CEO Alex Cruz says two-hour immigration lines are the norm now for many non-European travelers.

His letter was prompted by reports that the government is considering putting in special fast-track lanes for U.K. passport holders only. Cruz says doing this without solving other delays sends a poor message for a country preparing to leave the EU.

He described the immigration situation at Heathrow as a “farce,” calling it worse than any other European airport.