Heathrow decision: five key messages for planners

A final planning decision is still years away, the door could be left open for Gatwick expansion and a third runway could impact west London housing and employment forecasts.

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

1. We are still several years away from a planning go-ahead for Heathrow’s new runway. MPs must approve a National Policy Statement (NPS) supporting a third runway at Heathrow before a planning application can be made. Duncan Field, head of planning at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, said that, 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". Al Watson, head of planning and environment at law firm Taylor Wessing, said: "It looks and feels like 18 months until the government's policy position is established." The next stage - the development consent order - is "another two years of work, perhaps more", said Watson. Field added: "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."

2. Depending on the wording of the NPS, there could still be scope for Gatwick - and others - to promote their own schemes. Kevin Gibbs, planning partner at law firm Bond Dickinson, said: "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. 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." Norton Rose Fulbright’s Field added: "While the NPS will clearly identify Heathrow as the preferred location for a new runway, the NPS is very unlikely to exclude other sites completely."

3. The extension of Heathrow could result in changes to housing and employment forecasts in the west London and Thames corridor areas. Jonathan Manns, director of planning at property firm Colliers International, said 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". Robin Shepherd, planning partner at consultancy Barton Willmore, said: "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)."

4. A legal challenge to the third runway scheme looks inevitable. In a statement, the London Borough of Wandsworth said that solicitors jointly appointed by itself, Hillingdon, Richmond, 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 warned that a third runway would be "devastating" for air quality across the capital. 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". Heidi Copland, head of planning at law firm DMH Stallard, said a complex legal dispute running over many years "will mean a far from insignificant bill that the public purse will have to pick up". She said: "Combined with the fees for private actions, the legal bill will certainly run into seven, or even eight figures, and this doesn’t include the vast sums of compensation for the communities affected, such as home owners, businesses and other local groups."

5. More generous compensation arrangements could lead to new approach to compulsory purchase. 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. "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," he said.

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