High Court: Heathrow expansion "untenable in law or common sense"
It is a great day to be alive - unless you're BAA or the Government. In one of the most devastating condemnations of Government transport policy ever seen, the High Court has ruled that the case for Heathrow expansion has no economic or environmental basis. The ruling is so damning that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper - the cornerstone of the Government's aviation policy - is now only suitable for lining cat litter trays.
Firstly, Lord Justice Carnwath found that the economic case underestimated the economic impact of climate change - the external cost to society of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The actual cost is three times larger than the figure used to calculate the economic benefit.
Two years ago WWF and transport academic Keith Buchan found that using proper Treasury calculations and doubling the value of climate change used in the Government's calculations turned the £5 billion claimed benefit into a £5 billion deficit (i.e. it cost society £5 billion). Imagine what tripling the value would do!
Having dispatched the economic case, Carnwath turned to climate change. It was ridiculous, he argued, for the Government to ignore its own legislation, i.e. the Climate Change Act 2008. When the Government rewrites aviation policy later this year, it will have to take account of climate change in a real and considered manner. This means that all airport expansion can be challenged on climate change grounds, until the Government or industry can show how having ever more planes in the sky is compatible with reducing CO2 emissions.
Finally he looked at surface access. The Government claimed that you could increase by around 40% the number of people travelling to Heathrow without turning West London into a giant car park and pushing the Picaddilly line beyond capacity. Nonsense, cried the judge, citing evidence from Transport for London which showed very, very clearly that there wasn't going to be anything like enough road or tube space for all these extra people to fit into.
As if that wasn't enough, Carnwath turned his mind to the wider idea of challenging Government policy at public inquiries. It was not enough for the Government to say "this is our policy, so shut up and take it". While some aspects of policy were cut and dry there were some grey areas which the public had the right to challenge. The need for a particular motorway or airport should be open to challenge and debate, and public inquiries were the forum for doing this.
I've read the occasional verdict in my time, and this one is sensational. It's well worth reading through the judge's reasoning, if only to see just how spurious and ill-thought out the Government's case is. For once, I have nothing but praise for the legal system... normal service to resume shortly!