Airports Commission endorses third Heathrow runway

As the Airports Commission’s final report reveals its chosen airport expansion scheme, Angus Walker, partner and head of the planning and infrastructure department at Bircham Dyson Bell, takes us through the important elements of this decision.

A new northwest runway at Heathrow Airport offers the greatest strategic and economic benefits of three shortlisted options, the Airports Commission has concluded in its final report. The Commission’s recommendations include measures to address environmental and community impacts of a third Heathrow runway. The report also describes the strengths and weaknesses of the other shortlisted proposals. The outcomes of consultations on increasing the UK’s long-term aviation capacity and air quality have also been published.

What does the report recommend?

The Airports Commission final report recommends that of the three shortlisted options to build a third runway—the Gatwick second runway, the Heathrow extended northern runway and the Heathrow northwest runway—the construction of a new northwest runway at Heathrow is taken forward (a proposal made by Heathrow Airport Ltd) provided certain safeguards are put in place.

It does not recommend a particular consenting route, remaining neutral as to whether it should be introduced by hybrid bill in Parliament (like HS2) or a development consent order (like Hinkley Point C or the Thames Tideway Tunnel). Heathrow, however, said it favoured the latter.

What considerations did the Commission take into account in reaching its conclusions?

The Commission considered:

  • the strategic fit
  • economic impacts
  • surface access
  • environmental impact
  • effect on people
  • commercial viability and delivery, and
  • operational viability

It did not consider political deliverability (nor was it asked to)—and this is the issue which now faces the government.

What proposals are intended to mitigate the impacts of a third runway at Heathrow?

Several mitigation proposals have been recommended:

  • a ban on flights between 11.30 pm and 6:00 am
  • a legally-binding ‘noise envelope’ (a restriction on the amount of noise produced at an airport)
  • compensation for the loss of homes at 25% above market value
  • £1bn of community compensation
  • an aviation charge on noise (on all airports, possibly)
  • a major shift in mode share (ie more public transport)
What were held to be the downsides of expanding Gatwick?

Gatwick was considered to be a credible option, but the economic case for Heathrow was thought to outweigh it. The Commission thought that the type of routes that would be created at Heathrow, such as long-haul routes to new destinations was preferable to Gatwick which is more likely to have shorter-haul routes.

With the Prime Minister historically opposed to a third runway at Heathrow, what are the next steps?

Despite saying in 2009 that the third runway at Heathrow was not going ahead ‘no ifs, no buts’, David Cameron is now committed to consider the Commission’s recommendation and decide what to do about it by the end of the year. The recommendation will most likely be challenged in the meantime by an anti-Heathrow campaign group or another airport company. The government also has to decide what method should be used to obtain consent to build the third runway either by way of a hybrid bill in Parliament or a development consent order, as stated previously.

Interviewed by Stephanie Boyer.

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

Filed Under: Environment

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