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26 March 2010

Heathrow’s third runway: a recap

Geoff Hoon's week gets even worse.

By Alyssa McDonald

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Campaigners against Heathrow’s third runway won a major battle at the high court as Lord Justice Carnwath upheld their argument that the government had approved the airport’s expansion on the basis of “conspicuously unfair” public consultations.

Local residents, councillors and environmental groups say the development plans are incompatible with the government’s climate-change targets.

Geoff Hoon, who hasn’t been having the best of weeks anyway, came in for especially stinging words from the judge. The former transport secretary approved the expansion in January 2009.

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The plans had, Hoon said, passed the necessary “strict environmental tests” — the third of them the “surface access test”, requiring improved public transport to offset the expected increase in road and rail congestion.

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This time last year, Chris Ames revealed to readers of the NS that the government had “used a piece of spin” to pass the test:

In the absence of any convincing data to explain how millions of extra passengers would get to the airport, Department for Transport (DfT) officials have glossed over concerns about congestion by inserting what they described as a “narrative” into the consultation paper that the Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, relied on to approve the new runway in January.

And Lord Justice Carnwath was no more impressed.

“I find it impossible to determine precisely what the secretary of state ultimately understood to be the scope of the third condition, or what, if anything, he has decided about it,” the judge said. Ouch.