The government has finally declared its support for construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. But it wants more talk before there’s any action.
Prime minister Theresa May, who previously opposed Heathrow expansion, still believes more consultation is required before she can allow the project to go ahead. The scheme will now be taken forward in the form of a draft ‘national policy statement’ for consultation next year.
A start on actual construction work is still considered to be five years away, at least.
Building a new full length (3,500-metre) runway to the northwest of the current northern runway at Heathrow will require construction of a new (sixth) terminal, putting part of the M25 into a tunnel, moving a waste energy plant and knocking down 783 homes.
For many, the project is toxic. Therefore some £2.6bn is to be allocated to appeasing local opposition, including £700m for noise insulation for residents under flightpaths. There will also be a six-and-a-half hour ban on scheduled night flights.
Although this government, and the previous Conservative-led coalition before it, have been dithering over this decision for years, transport secretary Chris Grayling sought to dress up the announcement as a sign of decisiveness. “I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the UK’s place in the global aviation market – securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond,” he said.
He added: “This is an important issue for the whole country. That is why the government’s preferred scheme will be subject to full and fair public consultation. Of course it is also hugely important for those living near the airport. That is why we have made clear that expansion will only be allowed to proceed on the basis of a world class package of compensation and mitigation worth up to £2.6bn, including community support, insulation, and respite from noise – balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion.”
At £18.6bn, a third runway at Heathrow is the most expensive of the three options shortlisted by the Airports Commission but the one that it recommended in its final report last year as it offers the best economic return. According to the government it is a ‘fact’ (rather than an economic estimate calculated on the basis of a series of unporveable assumptions) that a thrid runway at Heathrow “will deliver economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61bn over 60 years” as well as “77,000 additional local jobs created by 2030”.
The alternative shortlisted options were a £13.5bn Heathrow Hub extended northern runway option and a £9.3bn second runway at Gatwick.
Heathrow expansion will be delivered through the planning process set down by the 2008 Planning Act and 2011 Localism Act. A draft national policy statement (NPS) setting out why the government believes this scheme is the right one will be published in the new year when the public will be consulted on the proposals. The government will set out the airport scheme it wants, along with supporting evidence, in the NPS. The public and parliament will be consulted and there will be a vote in the House of Commons. This will be followed by a planning application by the airport to the planning inspector who will take a view and advise government of his/her decision. Final sign off will be by the secretary of state for transport. Only after all that will construction actually start.
“It is highly unlikely that we’ll see any physical works commencing until at least 2021,” reckons Jonathan Stott, managing director of surveyors Gateley Hamer and a specialist in compulsory purchase. “There will be a vote by MPs, it’s very likely there will be a judicial review and a development consent order will be required.”
Prime minster Theresa May, whose Maidenhead constituency is near to Heathrow, campaigned against expansion of the airport when her party was in opposition and the Labour government was promoting the scheme.