Third runway likely to break record, by Angus Walker

Heathrow Airport Ltd launched a statutory consultation on 18 June on its proposals to build a third runway and associated infrastructure. It is called "statutory" because it is required under the Planning Act 2008, which created the consenting system for nationally significant infrastructure projects, before an application can be made.

The legal challenges to Heathrow expansion earlier in the year were to do with the government’s policy to support the new runway. This is about the actual application to permit one to be built.

The rules are quite prescriptive. A list of around 100 statutory bodies must be sent the consultation materials, as must all owners of land who the project promoter thinks may have a compensation claim. In the case of airport expansion, that would include those whose property values are expected to drop, principally because of noise, which in Heathrow’s case will probably run into tens if not hundreds of thousands. So, quite an exercise in sticking stamps on envelopes. There should also be a wider "community consultation" of those living or working in the vicinity. That is why Heathrow is arranging 43 consultation events during July and August across a wide area to allow people to ask about its proposals.

The current record number of responses to a statutory consultation under the Development Consent Order (DCO) regime was for the Lower Thames Crossing, which received around 30,000 for its consultation late last year. It is likely to be knocked off gold medal position by Heathrow expansion.

The consultation is only statutorily required to run for four weeks, but Heathrow has chosen to run its over 12, albeit including the summer holiday period. Fair enough, given how much reading material it has published, corresponding to the large scale of the project. The Planning Act 2008 was brought in specifically to receive this runway project and a suite of new nuclear power stations, so it should be able to handle it.

The runway is "just" a piece of asphalt. It is the associated infrastructure that makes up the bulk of the project, including burying the M25 so the runway can be built over the top of it. A new terminal close to the runway will be called "5XN" — what’s wrong with "Terminal 6"?

The runway is in fulfilment of the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), which applies to "schemes at Heathrow that include a runway of at least 3,500m in length and that are capable of delivering additional capacity of at least 260,000 air transport movements per annum". The runway that is the subject of this consultation is precisely 3,500m long and promises additional capacity of exactly 260,000 air transport movements – one centimetre shorter or one flight fewer and the NPS would not have applied to it. But it is well above the threshold that requires a DCO, which is an increase in capacity of ten million passengers a year – the increase will be about 40 million.

Angus Walker is a partner at BDB Pitmans

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