The expansion of Heathrow airport with a new runway to the north-west of the existing airport site was recommended in 2015 by the final report of the Airports Commission, established by the government in 2012 to determine how best to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub. The recommendation was accepted by the government in 2016 and included in the Airports National Policy Statement in 2018. On 27th February 2020 the Airports National Policy Statement was ruled illegal [link to our post about this] by the Court of Appeal for its failure to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. The Government has confirmed that they will not challenge this decision, but Heathrow Airport Limited intend to take the case to the High Court.
The case against Heathrow expansion
Expanding Heathrow would have a disastrous impact on the local and global environment. Residents of the area surrounding Heathrow are already severely affected by air pollution, noise pollution and traffic generated by the existing airport, and these problems will be exacerbated by an extra 700 flights each day. These flights and the road traffic serving them – whether at an expanded Heathrow or any alternative that increases airport capacity – will also contribute to global warming and undermine the UK’s efforts to cut carbon emissions by 2050 to 80% of 1990 levels as required by the Climate Change Act 2008. The Airports Commission was required to consider environmental impact without challenging the assumption that the UK must remain Europe’s largest aviation hub, a contradiction that was only reconciled by ignoring emissions from international flights and relying on unproven future developments in emissions reduction and trading.
Airport expansion has been one of the UK’s most controversial planning issues in recent years. The expansion of Heathrow is supported by a number of business groups, trade unions and much of the aviation industry with the exception of Heathrow’s direct rivals. But it is overwhelmingly opposed by local residents and environmental campaign groups.
Hundreds of thousands of local residents will be affected by increased noise, air pollution and traffic from an expanded Heathrow, but the people most directly impacted will be those forced out of their homes. Stop Heathrow Expansion, a campaign group established by local residents and councils, estimates that 3,750 homes would be demolished or rendered unliveable. Areas directly affected by expansion include the village of Longford which would be entirely demolished and the villages of Harmondsworth, Sipson, Poyle, Colnbrook and Brands Hill, all within the Wider Property Offer Zone where offers will be made to buy all property due to the severe effects of airport expansion on the local environment.
Heathrow Airport Limited had intended to submit a final proposal for their expansion plan by the end of 2020. This would be an application for a Development Consent Order (DCO), a form of planning permission decided nationally by the Planning Inspectorate and potentially overriding local planning policies. However, the ruling against the third runway is likely to cause significant delays to HAL’s readiness to make an application, if the application goes ahead at all.
- Airports Commission: Final Report. Airports Commission, 1 July 2015.
- Airports Commission membership. Department for Transport, Airports Commission, and The Rt Hon Sir Patrick McLoughlin MP, 2 November 2012.
- Community Information Booklet – North. Heathrow Airport Ltd, 17 January 2018, updated 18 January 2018.
- Community Information Booklet – West. Heathrow Airport Ltd, 17 January 2018, updated 18 January 2018.
- Government agrees final proposal for Heathrow expansion. Department for Transport and The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, 5 June 2018.
- Government decides on new runway at Heathrow. Department for Transport and The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, 25 October 2016.
- June 18 announced as launch day for Heathrow expansion statutory consultation. Heathrow Airport Ltd, 15 May 2019.
- The Seven Hurdles of Heathrow. Stop Heathrow Expansion.