The sponsor of a rival project to expand capacity at Heathrow Airport has kicked off a legal challenge to thwart last month’s move by Chris Grayling, the embattled Transport Secretary, to approve its £14bn third runway.
Sky News has obtained a letter sent on Friday by lawyers acting for Heathrow Hub – which favours a cheaper scheme to extend one of the airport’s existing runways – which paves the way for it to seek a full judicial review of the Government’s decision.
In the so-called pre-action letter, the law firm DAC Beachcroft accused the Department for Transport (DfT) of failing to provide information about the Heathrow decision-making process sought under freedom of information laws.
It requested that the DfT’s National Policy Statement, which was designed to end years of logjam over airport expansion, be quashed on five principal grounds.
These include what Heathrow Hub has argued for some time was a flawed understanding on ministers’ part of the capacity for new air traffic movements created by extending the airport’s northern runway.
The privately owned company, which has been funded by the same hedge fund manager who financed a recent exploration for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, also believes it was unlawful for the DfT to “effectively [give Heathrow] a veto over the Claimant’s proposal”.
Sources said that Heathrow Hub had engaged Martin Kingston QC, a planning expert at No5 Chambers, and Robert O’Donoghue, a prominent figure in cases of competition law from Brick Court, to fight its case.
The pre-action letter threatens to place a further obstacle in the way of Heathrow’s expansion – a policy which has won the backing of many business leaders, but has angered a number of the airport’s biggest airline customers, including British Airways’ parent company.
A separate judicial review process has already been set in motion by five London councils with the support of Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, and Greenpeace, the environmental charity.
Gatwick was also a serious contender to win the government’s backing for a new runway, but has appeared to rule out a formal legal challenge to Mr Grayling’s decision.
MPs voted overwhelmingly to back the plan in June – a vote which the then foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was ridiculed for missing over his long-held opposition to Heathrow gaining extra capacity.
One source who backs Heathrow Hub’s proposal said the legal challenge was important because the selection process had been “rigged in favour of Heathrow Airport, which already has a dominant market position”.
The DfT has previously said it was “confident that our process for decision-making is robust and will strongly defend any challenges”.
Heathrow Hub, which was set up by Jock Lowe, a former BA Concorde pilot, could not be reached for comment on Sunday night.