Dozens of airport, road and energy projects have been thrown into doubt after judges delivered a crushing blow to plans for a third runway at Heathrow over its impact on the environment.
The Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that the government’s policy on expanding the airport was unlawful because ministers had failed to take proper account of how it affected Britain’s climate commitments.
A refusal to properly consider the UN Paris agreement, which limits rises in global temperatures, when approving the third runway was “legally fatal”, the judges said.
The government said it would accept the ruling, striking a severe blow to plans for the runway.
Environmental groups and lawyers heralded the verdict as a milestone in the development of huge infrastructure projects, saying it had “wider implications for keeping climate change at the heart of all planning decisions”.
It could open the door to a series of challenges against plans for roads, the expansion of other airports, gas-fired power stations and coalmines on the grounds that they too are inconsistent with the legally binding climate change commitments.
The Heathrow decision could also have a big impact on plans for the budget next month, which is being billed in Whitehall as an infrastructure budget. The Conservatives are preparing to spend £100 billion over the next five years on building programmes.
Friends of the Earth said the ruling could lead to successful legal challenges on climate change grounds against plans to expand Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds Bradford, Southampton and Bournemouth airports. It warned that big road projects could be challenged on the same grounds, including plans for a route between Oxford and Cambridge, the A303 Stonehenge tunnel and the Lower Thames Crossing, a 14-mile motorway and tunnel to the east of the Dartford Crossing that is the biggest scheme of its kind in decades. It may even raise questions over HS2, which has been criticised over the damage it will cause to ancient woodland.