Airports expansion decision: reaction

Full reaction to this morning's announcement that the government has backed a third runway at Heathrow, including threats of legal action from nearby local authorities and the London mayor.

Heathrow expansion: government has given proposal its backing (picture: Heathrow Airport)
Heathrow expansion: government has given proposal its backing (picture: Heathrow Airport)

Duncan Field, head of planning at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, said: "The government's next step will be to put in place an Airports National Policy Statement (NPS). This will confirm the need for a new runway, the timeframe within which it should be provided and that Heathrow is considered the most suitable location. Once the NPS is formally designated these matters will be "taken as read" when it comes to deciding an application for development consent. However, based on the example of the Nuclear NPS it could be another two years before the Airports NPS is both designated and free from legal challenge - possibly even longer. Depending on whether Heathrow decides to begin the application process in parallel with the Government progressing the NPS, it could then be another two or three years after designation of the NPS before development consent is finally obtained and a further year or more before all legal challenges are exhausted.

"Even when the NPS has been designated it is likely to identify issues that need to be examined carefully before consent can be given - leaving open the possibility that the harmful effects of a specific proposal from Heathrow might still be held to outweigh its benefits. In addition, whilst the NPS will clearly identify Heathrow as the preferred location for a new runway, the NPS is very unlikely to exclude other sites completely.

"This and the timescales involved give Gatwick a genuine window of opportunity and it is not at all surprising that their reaction to the government's decision has been to signal the intention to carry on; it is conceivable that Gatwick will be able to demonstrate that the benefits of its second runway outweigh any harmful impacts and either that it can meet the need for runway capacity in the timeframe identified by government or that it will not prejudice the delivery of a third runway at Heathrow and can cater for additional need over a slightly longer timeframe."

Kevin Gibbs, planning partner at law firm Bond Dickinson, said: "Given the government’s decision to favour a third runway at Heathrow, it remains to be seen whether scope exists in the wording of the NPS for Gatwick, and other airports, to promote their schemes as NSIPs. After all, it is the government that provides guidance but it is the market which responds. Until we see the draft NPS there remains a degree of uncertainty. But it is unlikely that the draft will completely close the door on other airports, such as Gatwick, to promote a DCO in accordance with the finally designated NPS."

Jonathan Manns, director of planning at property firm Colliers International, said: "The government has long accepted that airport capacity must grow and that this is critical to national prosperity. Evidence suggests that existing airports in South-East England have been performing sub-optimally since the late 1990s and capacity is forecast to be full across each by 2030. Today’s decision to expand Heathrow takes us a step closer to addressing this.

"The extent to which other stakeholders including politicians, community groups and airport operators will protest remains to be seen. However the government’s decision also brings other, equally significant, policy questions into sharp focus. Most importantly, the extension of Heathrow will undoubtedly precipitate a review of housing and employment forecasts in west London and the Thames Corridor. Spatial designations, such as the green belt and strategic gap which separates Hillingdon from Slough, will be permanently impacted by construction of a new runway and rail access."

Al Watson, head of planning & environment at law firm Taylor Wessing, said: "At least we have a decision – a decision which at the moment seems to have only some form of measured support from airlines at Heathrow Airport who pay for the infrastructure. The decision is the preferred option; so the master planning exercise and consultation and refinement of ideas around public transport, air quality and noise will still need to be refined by Government over the next 12-15 months, or as long as it reasonably takes. Throw in the likely (and loud) legal challenges and it looks and feels like 18 months until the Government's policy position is established. Then the work begins on the application for consent, so another 2 years of work perhaps more."

Robin Shepherd, planning partner at Barton Willmore, said: "We must now ensure that the planning system is sufficiently well coordinated with the right mechanisms in place to deliver and capture the significant local, regional and national benefits.

"Crucially, the government must ensure that the 14 local authorities most affected work together, to identify and deliver the necessary infrastructure, including housing, and in particular make clear that the ‘housing need’ outlined by the original Airports Commission (60-70,000 homes), is indeed in addition to that already identified as arising from unmet housing need in the locality (including London overspill). Also, given the land constraints, we need the government to drive a decision to determine the future of the green belt; a decision which needs to be made quickly."

Robbie Owen, head of infrastructure planning and government affairs at law firm Pinsent Masons, said: "Following this announcement the government will be consulting on a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) supporting a third runway at Heathrow. The NPS will provide the policy backing for Heathrow’s application for a Development Consent Order (DCO), which it will be preparing for submission to the Planning Inspectorate who will then examine it on behalf of ministers.

"To decide whether ministers will give planning permission and other principal consents for the third runway, the DCO process will include modelling, environmental and health impact assessment, public and stakeholder consultation and outline design work."

Carl Dyer, partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "Fundamentally the government has made the wrong decision. Heathrow already has an unhealthy dominant position in the market, and promoting its further expansion will only exacerbate and consolidate that position. Going forward, Gatwick would have been a much better and cheaper option, and increasing runway capacity there would have increased instead of diminished competition.

"In the longer term, one runway will not be sufficient capacity for the South-East. As the government will never have a better opportunity to take unpopular decisions, a more strategic approach would have been to allow Gatwick to expand now and Heathrow to start the longer process to build its runway as well. Then we could look forward to the runway capacity we need and the competition we deserve.

"What we are likely to get is a political row, litigation in the courts, and further delay."

Jonathan Stott, managing director of surveyors Gateley Hamer, said that the offer to people with homes subject to compulsory purchase receiving 125 per cent of the full market value for their properties compares very favourably with the 110 per cent offer to those blighted by HS2. He said: ""We know Heathrow will be offering very generous compulsory purchase packages – much more so than HS2 and other infrastructure projects. Heathrow, therefore, will have long-term implications and become the new yardstick for best practice. It may result in government reviewing its approach to compulsory purchase."

Tim Hancock, managing director of planning design consultancy Terence O’Rourke, was a signatory to the Let Britain Fly campaign. He says: "Heathrow is the airport of choice for the majority of international clients we deal with. With the UK set to rely heavily on trade with businesses beyond Europe, the commitment to further establishing Heathrow as a major global hub was extremely important.

"What Heathrow offers us beyond just an additional runway, is the chance to undertake a major regeneration scheme, with investment in infrastructure, commercial property and the creation of new housing stock. It will be vital to spend the time preparing a structured masterplan that has placemaking at its heart, looking at how to make best use of public space so that the area becomes a destination in its own right."

Jon Neale, head of UK research at property firm JLL, said: "Expansion at Heathrow will boost the thriving industrial and logistics property market in the area. It will also help to enrich and grow other west London industrial markets such as Park Royal, A40 Corridor and Thames Valley, which include many businesses that rely on air freight for time critical supplies or deliveries. Not only will it bring an employment boost to West London, expansion at Heathrow will also bring benefits to the wider South East, further opening up the growing economies of cities such as Cambridge and Oxford."

Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, described the announcement as "catastrophic". He has resigned, forcing a by-election, according to reports.

Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia said that the decision to back Heathrow expansion is "wrong on every level, legally undeliverable and will end in failure after years of wasted of effort". In a statement, the London borough said that solicitors jointly appointed by Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, Windsor and Maidenhead councils and Greenpeace UK are now examining the government’s aviation announcement in detail and a legal strategy will be developed over the coming days.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said that the decision is "wrong" for London and the whole of Britain. "A new runway at Heathrow will be devastating for air quality across London – air pollution around the airport is already above legal levels of NO2," he said. "Heathrow already exposes more people to aircraft noise than Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid combined. A third runway would mean an extra 200,000 people impacted, exposing 124 more schools and 43,200 more schoolchildren to an unacceptable level of noise." Khan said he will "continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months".

Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, said: "When you already live next door to a notoriously loud party house the last thing you want to see is a van delivering gigantic speakers. While we welcome the jobs and economic benefits of Heathrow, a third runway will inevitably cause more noise, pollution and traffic that will damage the quality of life of local people. This news will cause serious anxiety for my residents which is why I am demanding a £150 million package of measures to mitigate the environmental impacts of a third runway and compensate those affected if the government is determined to press ahead with this."

Interim chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Lord Adonis, said: "This decision is a long overdue step in the right direction. It has been clear for decades that the UK needs additional airport capacity in the South East to remain open and competitive on the world stage, yet for far too long political indecision has prevented this.

"If the UK is to deliver world leading infrastructure this culture of dither and delay must come to an end. We must replace years of political deadlock with clear eyed analysis, long-term planning and strategic decision making."

Ralph Smyth, head of infrastructure and legal at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "Building a third runway at Heathrow would in itself take a huge chunk out of the green belt. But creating the biggest airport in the world on London's western edge would have an even more disastrous impact. Pressure for extra development would be felt in almost every village from the north of Oxfordshire to the south coast, urbanising and industrialising swathes of our most precious countryside."

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the Government has decided to press ahead with a new runway at Heathrow, despite the mounting evidence that it will be hugely costly and massively environmentally damaging.

"It’s scandalous that the government has completely ignored the environmental impact of a new runway, or the costs it will impose on people on lower incomes with the huge sums the Airports Commission proposes adding to the cost of plane tickets to allow a new runway to be built. There is also the huge cost to the taxpayer of providing the addition surface access to Heathrow, which Transport for London’s own research shows is likely to be at least £17 billion, and how this will siphon off money from other schemes to tackle London’s already overcrowded transport network."

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: "Expanding Heathrow would be a hugely damaging blow for local people, and makes a complete mockery of government commitments to tackle climate change. Local communities now face more noise, more air pollution and more misery from a quarter of a million extra flights each year.

"With the government poised to sign the Paris climate agreement, it’s decision to expand Heathrow – shortly after forcing fracking on the people of Lancashire – looks deeply cynical. However this is only the first step on a long journey that will see communities, councils and climate campaigners continue the battle to reverse this misjudged and damaging decision."

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