Campaigners gear up for legal challenge over UK runways

Gatwick Airport Image copyright PA
Image caption A second Gatwick runway is one of the options being considered by the Airports Commission

A charity, which successfully took the last Heathrow expansion scheme to court, says it could do the same again if ministers press ahead with a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick.

Next month the independent Airports Commission will recommend growing one of the two to handle increased demand.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says it's always had "serious concerns" about the commission's work.

And it told the BBC the final runways report was "bound to be tainted".

'Legal advice'

"Reasonable alternatives have been ignored from the start", the charity's Transport Campaign Manager (and barrister) Ralph Smyth said.

"If the government decides to proceed we are bound to take legal advice as the first step to a challenge in the courts."

The commission was set up two and a half years ago after the airports issue threatened to untie the-then Coalition government.

Soon, the new government will have to decide whether to go along with its final recommendation or pick its own winner.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the BBC that the commission had considered 52 proposals.

"This included examining whether additional capacity was required and how to make the most of our existing airports and runways," he said.

He added: "The Commission's final report this summer will mark the end of the most comprehensive and transparent process ever initiated by a British government on aviation."

Legal challenges have become inevitable with any big project, as opponents probe how well the government has gone about its decision.

The controversial high speed train scheme, HS2, has faced a number of judicial reviews, although none has successfully stopped or even delayed the project.

The 2010 court case

Five years ago the CPRE joined ranks with a number of councils and the main anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan in a court action against Labour's plan for a third runway in west London.

Back then, the judge found that the consultation process was flawed because it used old figures for the economy and the environment.

It didn't stop the scheme, but it did send ministers away with a lot of homework to do. Not long after that, the coalition came to power and binned the project altogether.

But Hacan's chair, John Stewart, has told the BBC he's not certain that they will go back to the courts this time, if Heathrow comes out on top.

"It's very expensive, we'd have to know there is a good chance of winning", he said.

Despite admitting that some residents might be swayed by offers of more financial help and respite from noise, he still maintains that there will be "overwhelming local opposition", if the government picks Heathrow.

Gatwick expansion also evokes a lot of local opposition, although not on the same scale because fewer people live under the flightpath.

The CPRE remains confident of support no matter which scheme is favoured,

"We were part of a broad alliance of local authorities and charities that in 2010 defeated the last attempt to build a new runway," said Mr Smyth.

"We can be sure the alliance this time round will be even bigger".

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