Comment: The Courts are the Last Official Channel of Opposition, Heathrow's Third Runway Cannot Be Built

Read time: 3 mins
No to Heathrow campaigners

By Calum Thomas, sustainable transport and anti-aviation campaigner

Yesterday afternoon it was announced by a judge that five legal challenges to a third runway at Heathrow would be heard formally in court next March. This is significant because, had the judge ruled otherwise, this could have been an unceremonious end to official channels of opposition.

The courts are the final institutional check on our government’s decision to expand aviation in the U.K. As campaigners, we believe the idea of expanding airports, in full knowledge of the local social and health impacts, as well as the devastating human consequences of climate breakdown, is maniacal in its disregard for people and its lack of humanity.

Local communities in West London are vocally resistant to a third Heathrow runway that would bulldoze people’s homes, accelerate climate breakdown and further pollute the already illegally toxic local air. The climate impacts have also been underlined by environmental activists working with local campaigners.


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The campaigning has been gathering speed over the past few years with local groups, councils and MPs coordinating as a No 3rd Runway Coalition, as well as dramatic runway blockades, mass cycle rides and a two-week hunger strike this June.

In spite of this broad opposition, in June, parliament voted to approve the proposal to build the third runway.

In response, a plethora of groups lodged five official legal challenges. These challenges are from local councils, local residents, environmental NGOs and environmental campaigners, as well as one from an alternative Heathrow expansion lobbying group.

These challenges call for a legal review of the proposal, largely on grounds of air pollution and climate change impacts. Around 100 people gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice before the court proceedings in a passionate, and at times musical, demonstration of support for the legal challenges. It felt heartening to see so many positive people standing together to defend a liveable planet against corporate egomania.

Many of the groups resisting the expansion have faith in the legal system to deliver justice. Indeed, everyone campaigning on Heathrow is hopeful that the legal system will do that in this case and outlaw the third runway, as it did with the last proposal in 2010.

Even us sceptics - those of us whose belief in mainstream institutions serving broad public interest has been tainted by experience - are eager to have our expectations proven wrong.


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In any case, the pursuit of powerful legal challenges is providing campaigners with an invaluable breather after an intense year (and many more previously) of grassroots campaigning and civil disobedience.

If, in the end, the courts back the government and the corporate interests, we will be in fine fettle to launch into the blockadia-style resistance which will be required to stop the third runway — a style of campaigning which has been extremely effective in Lancashire resisting fracking and in fighting fossil fuel expansionism around the world.

We've been here before, under the last Labour government, and we won before on a legal challenge. Everyone hopes that the courts will prove an effective check on this damaging government decision.

Otherwise, from here on out this fight will only get more radical. More runways cannot be built.

Image: Friends of the Earth

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