• Heathrow expansion takes a step forward

A decision from the government that favours expanding Heathrow airport with an additional runway has been met by delight from business organisations, and fresh demands from objectors. London mayor Sadiq Khan has called the decision “wrong for London and Britain”, while his mayoral rival Zak Goldsmith has resigned his Conservative seat and will fight to retain it as an independent parliamentarian.
The project, so far as it is formed, will add a third runway to the north west of the existing airport, which will potentially allow 40 more destinations to be served and take the airport’s flight capacity to 740,000 a year. The earliest date the expanded facility could be in operation has been set at 2025.
In planning terms, the new runway will require the compulsory acquisition of a major slice of developed land, with around 750 homes to be demolished with Harmondsworth, Longford and Sipson substantially removed from the map. Across a larger area taking in Poyle, Colnbrook, Brands Hill, Harlington and Cranford Cross, 3,750 homes will be offered the option of selling their property for market value plus 25%, to the airport operator. For those who stay, noise mitigation work will also be funded on their homes.
Along the way, the airport’s operators will need to submit an application for a Development Control Order, which will need to go through two rounds of public consultation; while alongside the development of the Heathrow plans, the government is likely to start drafting a National Policy Statement for airports, something that does not currently exist. The airport’s own indicative timeline suggests a first consultation on the draft NPS could take place in mid 2017, the DCO would be submitted in 2019 and the DCO could be granted in 2021.
Any progress towards the growth of Heathrow will feed into a growing number of initiatives, to help London expand in the west. The recently prepared City in the West brochure from City Hall suggests the region could have capacity to deliver 210,000 more homes, and support 300,000 jobs. The GLA is working with local boroughs and stakeholders to develop a strategic plan which is likely to include areas north of Heathrow, along the new Crossrail train line between Ealing and Slough; and existing urban centres such as Hounslow, Staines and Uxbridge.
In the meantime, there have been suggestions that RAF Northolt, to the north of Heathrow, could be used temporarily to absorb some flights by accommodating smaller aircraft on short haul flights. The airport is currently owned by the government, which has allowed a ceiling of 12,000 commercial flights per year from the runway. Regional airline Flybe recently issued a supportive statement: “Flybe has been encouraged by Heathrow’s recently announced plans to support regional flights and wants to see these plans progressed. In the interim Flybe believes the government should allow scheduled commercial flights to and from RAF Northolt to fast-track the benefits of regional connectivity. The new capacity at Heathrow will take a decade or more to build and Northolt is available right now.”
Longer term, another recent report suggests development in the west needs to consider opening up green belt land, by considering instead a Green Web. The recent Re/Shaping London report by Jonathan Manns and Nicholas Falk suggests that, so long as military requirements could be met elsewhere, Northolt airfield would make an ideal site for a new Garden City, with three nearby Underground stations already in place. Their report points to “the scale of opportunity that Northolt represents to help meet London’s development needs on brownfield land”.
Meanwhile, new figures have revealed that almost half of noise complaints levelled at Heathrow are made by just 10 people. The serial complainers are headed by a hard core of three people who contacted the airport more than 1,280 times over a three month period of the summer, or an average 13 times a day. In total, the airport received more than 25,000 noise complaints during the period, with the majority coming from outer boroughs including Slough, Richmond on Thames and Windsor & Maidenhead.

LPA Perspective: Don’t hold your breath. The lawyers have yet to get to work, on the many and various arguments against the expansion of Heathrow. There are plenty of rounds of consultation, too, for those who feel it didn’t go their way first time. It could be a long, drawn-out fight.
The problem with the uncertain length of the process, is that is it hard to plan too much around an expanded Heathrow. But those areas mentioned in City in the West such as Southall need to be strategically planned, in order for this region to play its part in the expansion of London overall.
And, with calls for Northolt to become a “pop up” third runway, how about Hillingdon getting its head around a deal that sees the airport used for more civil flights in the short term, so long as it is closed in the medium term – and converted into a Garden City? It’s a worthy aspiration that ought to be inserted into the next relevant planning document.
There continues to be much concern about noise, but here a reflection on City Airport might be helpful. When it opened in the late 1980s, the airport’s operations were restricted to one aircraft type, a steep landing turboprop with four quiet engines. Today it hosts dozens of jets including some crossing the Atlantic – and the local authority happily backed the airport’s expansion. New homes are being developed close by, and buyers are snapping them up. Proof, if it were needed, that aircraft do get quieter, and that airports can be OK as neighbours.

Lee Mallett comments: And what about Stansted? London needs more places for its growth to happen. The east side of the UK – like the weak side of a medieval longbow archer – remains massively undeveloped compared with the west side, which is getting HS2. Stansted is the natural starting place to beef up the weedy side of Britain. Give it another runway too, and a faster train link to central London.

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