By Hal Meakin
The recent Court of Appeal ruling deemed plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport to be “unlawful”; however, this might not be the end for the much-debated scheme.
The Court of Appeal recently ruled that constructing Heathrow’s third runway would breach Britain’s legal commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Whilst the airport is mounting a legal challenge to the ruling, the government itself are not being drawn into the appeal, preferring to watch from a distance.
Boris Johnson has been extremely successful in avoiding any form of decision on the controversial third runway at Heathrow. During the vote to approve the plans in 2018, he was conspicuously absent from the chamber, having taken the opportunity to fly to Afghanistan.
The promise was made to his constituents of Uxbridge and South Ruislip whose proximity to Heathrow has left many residents antagonistic to the concept of a multi-billion-pound construction project happening in their backyards.
Keenly aware of the allegory of the Liberal Democrats, Johnson will know that broken promises can cripple politicians, rendering them electorally impotent with certain demographics of voters: MP Nick Clegg (Liberal), students, and tuition fees provides a case in point.
Whether through political skill or lucky circumstance, Johnson has valiantly avoided falling on his sword, neither breaking his promise to prevent the third runway, nor his promise to level up Britain’s infrastructure.
This ambiguity has merely placed the runway plans on ice rather than being the death knell being heralded by some. Rather than condemn it as a poorly conceived project, Johnson’s government is painting the scheme as a simple political disagreement.
Transport Secretary, MP Grantt Shapps, issued a statement detailing how Heathrow’s environmental deficiencies were a product of the previous administration’s oversight. The existence, efficacy and effectiveness of the scheme itself were never been called into question.
Deferring all responsibility for the outcome of the scheme allows Johnson to both keep his local promise to his constituents and keep his electoral promise to inject funding into national infrastructure projects.
Johnson’s noncommittal, lukewarm response leaves an opening to defibrillate these plans under stricter environmental controls. The battle may be over, but the war remains over Heathrow’s third runway.