In opening the way for expansion of an airport in Kent, the High Court has rejected objectors’ arguments that the development would pose an unacceptable threat of disaster due to its close proximity to the Dungeness nuclear power plant.

AirportOpponents to proposals for a runway extension and new terminal building at Lydd Airport argued that the development would greatly increase the number of heavy aircraft using the facility, which is within five kilometres of the nuclear plant.

It was submitted that the plant was not designed to withstand the impact of aircraft above a certain weight and that a crash could cause a nuclear disaster of the most serious kind, entailing risk to society in general and massive loss of life.

However, in dismissing the challenge to permissions granted by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Transport, the Court rejected arguments that the decision as to whether the proposals were unacceptable on safety grounds had been unlawfully delegated to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), which had not objected to the plans.

The permissions had been granted pursuant to the recommendations of a planning inspector who had presided over a lengthy public inquiry. The inspector had reached a ‘perfectly sensible conclusion’ and, although he had accepted that there would be ‘some increase in risk’, he had been entitled to rely on the ONR’s assessment of how slight that increase would be when compared to the existing airport use.

In also rejecting a separate challenge to the scheme brought by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Court found that the inspector had justifiably concluded that there was ‘no likelihood of a significant effect’ on nearby sites which were protected under the European Habitats Directive.