David Bainbridge and Julia Mountford, from the planning teams at Savills Oxford and Reading, take an overview of the Supreme Court ruling on Heathrow expansion. 

On December 16, 2020, the UK Supreme Court handed down judgment on a challenge brought by Friends of the Earth and others to the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement.

The Supreme Court judgment overturned a landmark Court of Appeal ruling, after judges ruled unanimously that Government ministers lawfully took into account the UK’s climate change commitments under the 2016 Paris Agreement.

This is significant for the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport which is favoured in the policy statement, adopted in 2018.

Expansion of the UK’s ‘hub’ airport is seen by some as a critical part of international trade and development, bringing with it investment and employment.

Any future application for development consent for construction of a third runway will be considered against this policy framework however the policy does not grant development consent in its own right.

While Heathrow is located within the London Borough of Hillingdon the local authorities of Slough Borough Council (SBC) and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead are physically closest within the county of Berkshire.

These authorities, amongst several others are impacted by Heathrow, to varying degrees, and the associated future proposals. 

Take SBC for example, after years of uncertainty and delay, they published their consultation on the ‘Proposed Spatial Strategy’ in November 2020 confirming that the “Local Plan is now being prepared on the basis that there will not be any expansion of Heathrow. Any proposals that do come forward will have to be dealt with through a review of the Local Plan.”  

The runway proposals in particular affect the Colnbrook and Poyle areas, both designated as Green Belt and subject to noise constraints from Heathrow.

The emerging Local Plan sets out that, “Preventing any development in the wider Colnbrook and Poyle area should make it easier to bring forward proposals for the airport in the future if it was supported by Government policy”, thereby allowing scope within the existing framework to accommodate the proposed third runway. 

The ruling highlights the delicate balance between the economy and requirements of climate change. 

Many local planning authorities are now declaring a ‘climate emergency’ and sustainable living is a much higher priority for the public; as a result, future decisions about the third runway are expected to be challenged at every step. 

However, SBC’s approach to preventing any development in the wider Colnbrook and Poyle area, regardless of the latest position on the runway, appears to allow them the flexibility to progress their Local Plan.

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