A flurry of legal challenges from opponents of Heathrow’s expansion plan is expected in the coming weeks following approval in parliament.
MPs voted 415 to 119 to grant permission for a third runway on Monday, meaning the government has now formally adopted the proposals into the National Planning Statement. It gives opponents six weeks to now lodge objections in the courts.
The Department for Transport said approval “could see building work start in 2021”, but several groups are preparing challenges, among them the London Assembly, which pledged to seek to overturn “this calamitous decision”.
Greenpeace said it would join councils in a legal challenge. The environmental charity was part of a consortium that bought an acre of land near Heathrow in 2009 and divided it into small lots, allocating each to a different owner in a bid to scupper expansion. However, a Greenpeace spokesperson admitted this was not part of its latest strategy: “The current development plans are in a different place,” they said.
The court challenges, which will centre on the idea of expansion as a whole, are expected to begin in the autumn and will be based on the increased noise and air pollution a third runway will bring. If these are overcome, Heathrow will meet another hurdle after it submits detailed proposals next year, as this will face a planning inquiry that will not start until 2020.
Protest group Hacan (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) admitted the MP majority voting in favour had been “a little higher than expected” and this gave the government “a strong mandate to build the runway”.
The project, costed at £14 billion, could increase capacity from 78 million to 130 million passengers a year, but will not be ready until 2026 at the earliest. A sixth terminal has also been suggested, although existing buildings may be extended instead.
Heathrow may also face objections from airlines, which have said they will oppose any increases in passenger charges to fund construction. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “We expect the secretary of state to enforce his stated aim of keeping passenger charges at today’s levels, but until we receive complete clarity on this our support for the new runway will remain conditional.”
Despite Heathrow mainly benefiting the south-east, the UK regions are largely supportive because a third runway may mean reinstatement and expansion of regional connections.
Heathrow no longer has flights from airports such as Newquay; while new links with cities such as Cardiff, which rely on connections through Dublin, Amsterdam and Paris, could be a possibility.
“There should be more focus on regional flying. Manchester is where the investment should be. The Heathrow project won’t come in under budget and it’s not a great use of money. Heathrow’s very congested as it is and doesn’t offer great customer experience. I think the government believes it’s all about London and the south – it feels like this runway is a status symbol.”
Shona Thorne, Thorne Travel
“It’s a great decision and definitely needed. Hopefully it will fuel greater competition at Heathrow. Selling to our customers in south Wales, Heathrow is absolutely vital as it is a real pain to ask them to go an extra hour or so to Gatwick. I’d say around 30% of our sales are for Heathrow bookings. I highly doubt it will be delivered on time or on budget, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Simon Morgan, Tailor Made Travel
“Of course I can understand why those who live locally, including me, may not agree with the decision due to social and environmental aspects. But with Brexit, we need large projects to boost our economy and transport infrastructure. It is for the greater good of the country and it is a sensible choice to help grow UK business.”
Nick Harding-McKay, Travel Designers
“I feel quite indifferent. We’d much prefer more capacity from Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our customers will go to Heathrow, but only about 5% of our bookings fly from there. Agencies in the north are supported by carriers such as Emirates and the US airlines, but if they did pull out of the area to go down to Heathrow instead, that’d be a real concern.”
Tricia Rickerby, Cumbria Travel