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Heathrow’s third runway will not be taking off after all

Heathrow’s third runway has been ruled illegal by the court of appeal, because the government did not properly consider its own climate change pledges in line with the Paris Agreement when drawing up its plans.

The court is actually on the same street as our offices here at Mulberry Media and a throng of protestors was outside the gates this morning chanting and waving banners while TV cameras observed the ruckus. It is a major blow for a project that has been bedevilled for years by an ongoing row about the carbon emissions that an extra runway would cause.

The problem boils down to the government’s target of reducing the UK to ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050, which has been enshrined in law. Fairly obviously, another 700 flights per day and tens of millions of extra passengers per year is not intuitively conducive to lower emissions. The government reportedly does not want to appeal the verdict, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “Our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry led.”

Whatever that means. He goes on: “Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.” Which is a roundabout way of saying…nothing much at all.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has long been a vocal opponent of siting the runway at Heathrow, and among his many notorious hare-brain schemes was a new airport in the Thames Estuary, dubbed ‘Boris Island’. It never came to fruition, but he caused chagrin among his critics by claiming he would personally lie down in front of the bulldozers, but disappearing on Foreign Office business when the vote in parliament to approve the third runway was staged during Theresa May’s government.

Anyhow, the presiding judge in today’s decision, Lord Justic Lindblom, said: “The Paris Agreement ought to have been taken into account by the Secretary of State. The National Planning Statement was not produced as the law requires.” It is possible that the decision will set an international precedent for legal challenges to carbon-heavy infrastructure schemes, as the world’s collective effort to arrest global warming grows in scale and ambition.

Walmart wants to try and offload Asda, presumably not at a cut-price in the wake of its failed proposed merger with Sainsbury’s, which was gazumped by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last April. Apparently America’s largest grocer wants to hold onto a small stake in the business, but it said it is talking to a handful of “interested parties” to sound them out about taking the British footprint off its hands.

If the merger had been successful, it would have created by far the largest grocery business in the UK, outstripping Tesco by a significant margin with revenues of £51bn. It is for precisely this reason – the lack of choice consumers would be left with – that the CMA eventually put its foot down.

In a statement, Walmart said: “Following inbound interest Walmart and Asda can confirm that we are currently considering whether there is an opportunity for a third party to invest in Asda, alongside Walmart, in order to support and accelerate the delivery of Asda’s strategy and position Asda for long-term success.” It’s great how these corporate press releases always make it sound like the seller just wants what’s best for the thing they’re selling, rather than what’s best for their own P&L.

There is also talk of a flotation on the stock market instead of a sale, but inevitably this would mean Walmart could gradually offload its shares having cashed in on a bit more value than a small number of investors might be willing to offer. No doubt the mooted premium on the existing equity in ‘initial talks’ will determine which course the American giant chooses to chart.

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