NEWS / Blog / Infrastructure in limbo after Heathrow court ruling


28 FEB 2020


Court decision has major implications for UK infrastructure


s the UK wakes up to a new day, governments, administrations and clients all across the country are slowly realising the full implications of the Court of Appeal's ruling on the expansion of Heathrow.

Dozens of schemes across the country are now thrown into doubt. Everything from regional airport expansion, to road improvements and energy projects are on the line after judges ruled that there was a failure to review the impact of Heathrow's expansion on the environment. 

The Court ruled that there was a failure of government to properly consider the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which aims to limit the rise in global temperatures, when approving the third runway was 'legally fatal' to the overall decision. This has made the decision reviewable by the Court. 

As a result, the judgement not only affects Heathrow but has the potential to affect a whole host of projects across the country on the grounds that they too are inconsistent with the legally binding climate change commitments. A quick survey of the UK infrastructure landscape shows us the scale of the impact this judgement might have:

  • HS2  Despite having received the go ahead from the government just a few days ago, could the scheme once again be in doubt? Vocal protestors have long argued against the environmental credentials of the plan and the Oakerviee review stated it is unlikely to be carbon netural in the short term.  It is surely now only a matter of time until an application for judicial review is filed.
  • Regional airports  Following the ruling on Heathrow, Friends of the Earth stated they would be hoping to use the judgement to mount similar legal challenges to the plans to expand Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds Bradford, Southampton and Bournemouth airports. Should they be successful it will scupper the entire government's aviation strategy.

  • Road improvements  It is not just airports that would find themselves on the wrong side of this judgment as roads schemes such as the planned route between Oxford and Cambridge, the A303 Stonehenge tunnel and the Lower Thames Crossing are now all in doubt.
  • Drax  Approval was granted for the North Yorkshire power station to replace the old coal fired turbines with four new gas fired ones in October over the objection of the Planning Inspectorate who wanted the scheme blocked because of its environmental impact. The legal challenge which is already underway now looks much more likely to succeed. 

These are just a few of the existing schemes that are now vulnerable today. But the judgment also has implications on future projects. The Government has trailed plans for a massive increase in infrastructure spending, particularly in the North of England, as part of a 'infrastructure revolution' All of this may now find itself open to legal challenges if the environmental impacts of infrastructure schemes haven't been properly considered.

Now is time for bold new thinking and ACE is leading the way. Julian Francis

If this turns out to be case the government will find itself on the horns of a dilemma over delivery of its environmental strategy, or delivery of its economic rebalancing agenda, and achieving both may prove to be impossible. 

What is clear is that clients now more then ever need access to the best advice they can find and that early design work and master planning will be key to meeting the nation's climate change objectives. ACE is ready to help any client that needs assistance with their project by providing a forum where they can engage with the world's finest consulting engineering companies to discuss the issues they face. While the deliverly of projects got slightly more complicated today, clients are not alone as we, as an industry, stand ready to help them achieve their goals. 

We also stand ready to assist the government in meeting its desire to not only grow the UK's economy but also to protect our environment. Now is time for bold new thinking and ACE is leading the way.

ACE, with the support of twenty-five industry leaders, has written to the Construction minister asking him to approve the creation of the Consultancy Sector Futures Institute which will drive innovation in our sector enabling us to deliver on the Net Zero commitments. Furthermore, ACE's Net Zero group holds its first meeting on 5 March. The campaign, co-managed by sister organisation EIC, will help the industry meet the overarching challenge of our times.

We have the skills and resources to meet the challenge of Net Zero, and we now have the legal obligation to do so. With the eyes of the world upon us, it is time once again for the UK to lead the way. 

Replay our free webinar where you'll find out more about the implications of the Heathrow decision with Hannah Vickers and Matthew Farrow of ACE and EIC.

Julian Francis

Julian Francis

Previously Director of External Affairs

Julian was previously a Director at ACE.