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Aviation and Climate Change

The High Court has dismissed a claim for judicial review of the decision of the London Borough of Newham to grant planning permission to allow London City Airport to increase its flights to up to 120,000 per year. The claim was brought by the chair of campaign group “Fight the Flights”. The principal ground related to the alleged failure of the Council to consider a change in climate change policy in granting permission for the increased number of flights.

In January 2009, the Secretary of State for Transport had announced a target to set greenhouse gas emissions from aviation below 2005 levels in 2050. In granting planning permission in July 2009, the Council was advised that there had been no material change in climate change policy so far as it affected the application since October 2008. The High Court (Pill LJ and Roderick Evans J) accepted that there had been no material change, and that the Council had not made an error of law in failing to have regard to the January 2009 target. Pill LJ found that the Secretary of State had requested the advice of the Committee on Climate Change as to how the new target would be met and that it “was not for the Council to work out a new policy in the meantime. The important questions which arise call for national guidance and not speculation by a local planning authority as to the effect of a target announced for 2050.”
The case raises two broader issues, one of general principle and one related to aviation in particular. Firstly, to what extent should local planning authorities be required to apply broad brush policy announcements to their decision making? Clearly, in this case the Council was not in a position to translate the 2050 target into a policy which could be used in the determination of the application: that was a job for the Secretary of State. But to campaign groups, it may be frustrating that the the potential for future restrictions on airport growth has not yet been articulated in any clear policy.

Secondly, the case reminds us that despite the announcement in the coalition agreement of the cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow and additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted, we still await clear policy guidance on how planning decisions in respect of airports should be handled. The Aviation National Policy Statement is still awaited, and it is not clear how the withdrawal of support for new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will affect decisions about expansion elsewhere.