Legal challenges to Britain's Heathrow expansion set for March

LONDON (Reuters) - A hearing will take place in March next year to consider legal challenges against the British government’s planned expansion of Heathrow Airport, a judge said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A British Airways Boeing 747 comes in to land at Heathrow airport in London, Britain, June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Mr Justice Holgate told a London court that he and another judge would oversee a full hearing in the case of five legal challenges which have been submitted against the plan to build a new runway at Heathrow.

Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, is operating at full capacity. The government won a vote in June to proceed with a 14 billion pound ($18 billion) project to build a third runway, but the expansion faces opposition from local communities and environmentalists.

The March hearing, a type of judicial review, will see the government defend its airports National Policy Statement against claims from the different parties, which the judge said centered around the issues of air quality, climate change and noise.

The result of the legal challenges could be delays to Heathrow’s plan to start building work in 2021 and have the new runway operating by 2026.

The government has said expansion is important as it will add new trade links with China and elsewhere once Britain has left the European Union next year, boosting economic growth.

In court, the judge focused on the legal challenge brought by the local authorities of Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Richmond, Hammersmith and Fulham, and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which have joined forces with the Mayor of London and environment group Greenpeace.

Another challenger is Heathrow Hub, a group which believes the best way of adding capacity at Heathrow is to extend one of the existing runways instead of building a new one. Environmental charity Friends of the Earth has also made a case against the new runway.

Heathrow Airport, owned by Ferrovial FER.MC, Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corporation among others, noted that to date there had not been a successful challenge against the designation of a National Policy Statement, and said it was focused on completing the work needed to win planning approval.

Under a judicial review, the court cannot directly block the new runway from being built but a judge could strike out an offending part of the government’s plan or order the policy to be changed or reviewed.

Heathrow last came this close to building a new runway in 2009, when the government granted it approval to expand, but an election the following year ushered in a new government which blocked development of a new runway and it abandoned the plan.

Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Stephen Addison