Heathrow Airport’s proposal to construct a third runway hit a major obstacle when the UK High Court decided that a hearing must be conducted to consider the case against the controversial expansion project.

The High Court stated that the opposition case should be heard in an open court given the amount of public interest generated in the project.

The judge also ruled that clarification was required regarding a statement made by the Transport Secretary early this year in which he approved the third runway.

According to environmental activists, residents’ groups and local councils, the statement made by the then Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, was different from the original proposals.

The verdict follows comments made by the new Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, who suggested millions of short-haul flights will be replaced by high-speed rail.

If such proposals go ahead, the case for a third runway will be further weakened as short-haul flights at Heathrow will be transferred to rail networks.

RSPB’s director of conservation, Dr Mark Avery, said that expansion of the airport for more flights is not practical when the government needs to reduce carbon emissions.