Expansion of Heathrow Airport

Expansion of Heathrow Airport

The expansion of London Heathrow Airport has involved several proposals by Heathrow Airport Holdings to increase capacity at London Heathrow Airport.

In December 2006 the Department for Transport published a progress report on the strategy which confirmed the original vision.[1][2] In November 2007 the government started a public consultation on its proposal for a slightly shorter third runway (2,000 metres (2,187 yd)) and a new passenger terminal.[3]

The plan was supported by businesses, the aviation industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and the then Labour government. It was opposed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties as opposition parties and then as a coalition government. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, as well as many environmental and local advocacy groups and prominent individuals also opposed the project. The expansion was cancelled on 12 May 2010 by the new coalition government.[4]


Third runway and sixth terminal

Map of London Heathrow Airport showing the original proposed extension and third runway

In January 2009 the then Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that the UK government supported the expansion of Heathrow by building a third runway (2200m) and sixth terminal building. The government would not undertake construction, but encourage the airport operator (BAA) to apply for planning permission and carry out the work. The government anticipated that the new runway will be operational in 2015 or soon after.[5][6] In 2009 the government declared that they did not intend that the third runway should be used at full capacity when it is first opened. Initially the extra flights should be limited to 125,000 a year until 2020, rather than the 222,000 at full capacity.[6]

In January 2009 more detailed plans for the third runway were approved together with a sixth terminal and also a major new Heathrow Hub railway station which would provide better high-speed domestic rail links to the Great Western Main Line.[7] Plans for a high-speed rail connection direct to Heathrow were however dropped during 2010.

In March 2010 the route for High Speed 2 was announced which did not include a direct connection with Heathrow, preferring a new station at Old Oak Common to the west of Paddington on the Crossrail route.[8]

On 12 May 2010, the expansion was cancelled by the new coalition government. BAA formally dropped its plans on 24 May 2010.[9] However, London First, a lobby group representing many of London's businesses and major employers, continue to press the coalition government to rethink their opposition to the expansion of the airport.[10]

North-west runway

In July 2013, the airport submitted three new proposals for expansion to the Airports Commission, which was established to review airport capacity in the south-east of England. Each involved the construction of a third runway, either to the north, north-west or south-west of the airport.[11] The commission released its interim report in December 2013, shortlisting the north-west third runway option at Heathrow, extending an existing runway at Heathrow and a second runway at Gatwick Airport. The full report is due to be published in 2015.[12] Following the publication of the interim report, the government confirmed that no options had been ruled out for airport expansion in the south-east, and that a new runway would not be built at Heathrow before 2015.[13] The commission estimates the cost to be around £18.6 billion; £4 billion higher than Heathrow's own estimate.[14]


Reasons for expansion

The principal argument stated in favour of expanding Heathrow is to enhance the economic growth of the UK. As the UK's major hub airport, Heathrow is able to attract many transfer passengers and so is able to support a very wide range of direct flight destinations at high frequencies. It is therefore the world's busiest airport based on number of international passengers.[6] The government claims that Heathrow's connectivity helps London and the South East compete with other European cities for business investment, which in turn produces economic benefits for the rest of the UK.[15] Should Heathrow's connectivity decline compared to London's European competitors, the UK would fall behind.[5]

The government's argument is that Heathrow is on the brink of suffering a decline in connectivity. Heathrow’s runways are now operating at around 99% capacity, which increases delays when flights are disrupted, and risks competing European airports gaining destinations at Heathrow's expense.[5] The government estimates that building a third runway would allow Heathrow to increase its connectivity, bringing £5.5bn of economic benefits over 2020-2080.[6] However, the British Chambers of Commerce estimates the economic benefits are £30 billion for the UK economy over the same time scale and has also stated that for every year the programme is delayed, it costs the UK between £900 million and £1.1 billion.[16]

Despite the fall in passenger numbers caused by the global recession, supporters of expansion argue that demand will increase again when the recession ends.

Some of the capacity added to Heathrow by the addition of a third runway could be used to re-instate or improve flight connections to UK cities. Several cities have seen their connections to Heathrow reduced or lost over recent years as airlines have reallocated the airport's limited capacity to more profitable long-haul flights.[17][18]

A third runway would increase Heathrow's resilience to disruption, and so reduce emissions from aircraft waiting to land.[5]

Construction would provide up to 60,000 jobs. Operating the expanded Heathrow would create up to 8,000 new jobs at Heathrow by 2030, with multiplier benefits to west London.[5]

BAA believes that the proposed North South High Speed Rail link joining with Heathrow will funnel more passengers to Heathrow, putting further pressure on capacity and boosting the case for a new landing strip - with increased demand in particular for long haul flights.


The UK Labour party took the lead in driving forward the expansion of Heathrow. The particular members of that government most closely associated with that drive were the then Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) and past Transport Secretaries Alistair Darling, Ruth Kelly, Geoff Hoon and Lord Adonis. Lord Mandelson, the then Business Secretary, also voiced his support for the scheme.

The majority of the UK Conservative Party leadership including Chancellor George Osborne is also in favour of expansion.[19]

The stance of both Labour and the Conservatives is broadly supported by a number of groups and prominent individuals:

Advocacy in support of expansion

In May 2007, the [23] In 2009 Greenpeace acquired and published a detailed confidential report into the group activities and plans[24] which claimed that The Department for Transport was independently approaching Flying Matters for support on key issues on the Climate change bill.[25]

Prior to the 2007 party conferences Flying Matters issued a number of press releases aimed at the conservative party which challenged their opposition to the 3rd runway: "Voters in key marginals shun Conservative proposals for higher taxes on air travel", "'Green' holiday tax plan puts Conservatives 6 per cent behind Labour in 30 most important marginals in the Country","Families will be priced out of air travel if Heathrow fails to expand" and "Stopping new runways would cost half a million new UK jobs".[26] The objectives outlined in the leaked 'draft Strategy and programme for 2009-10' later confirmed that the organisation felt that it was "Essential to help establish a foundation from which the Conservatives could amend their position post election". The organisation's budget for 2008-2009 was £390K.[27]


The aviation sector has close links with political decision makers which many players moving between roles through the controversial 'revolving door'. For example: Joe Irvin was advisor to John Prescott from 1996 and 2001 (Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions as well as Deputy Prime Minister) before working for various element of the aviation lobby and becoming head of corporate affairs at BAA in 2006 before he became 'Special Advisor' to Gordon Brown in 2007 when he became prime minister.[28][29] He was succeeded at BAA by Tom Kelly who took the title 'group director of corporate and public affairs'; Kelly had previously been the official spokesman for Tony Blair when he was prime minister.[28]

Freedom to Fly was formed during the preparation phase of the "Future of Aviation white paper 2003" by BAA and others[30] It was 'fronted' by Joe Irvin, a former political adviser to John Prescott[31] who subsequently became Director of Public Affairs at BAA Limited[32] Their director, Dan Hodges, is the son of Glenda Jackson, Labour MP and former Aviation Minister.[33]


Greenhouse gas emissions

Environmental campaigners are concerned that the increased CO
emissions caused by the additional flights will contribute to global warming.[34] They argue that the claimed economic benefits will be more than wiped out by the cost of the CO
emissions. The government estimates that construction of a third runway will generate an additional 210.8 Mt CO
, but only costs this at £13.33 per ton of CO
(2006 prices), so that the cost over 2020-2080 is only £2.8bn.[35] This is a small fraction of the government's own official estimate of the cost of carbon, which rises from £32.90 in 2020 to £108.20 in 2080 (in 2007 prices).[36] If these figures are used, the carbon cost of the third runway alone rises to £13.3bn (2006 prices), enough to wipe out the economic benefits.[37] However, the British Chambers of Commerce has released a report stating the economic benefits as £30 billion over the same time scale, considerably more than the carbon cost of the expansion.[16]

The World Development Movement has claimed that the proposed additional flights from Heathrow’s third runway would emit the same amount of CO
per year as the whole of Kenya.[38] However, the then-Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly stated that carbon emissions will not actually rise overall in the environment since carbon trading will be used to ensure that these increases from Heathrow are offset by reductions elsewhere in the economy.[39]

Community destruction

Some 700 homes, a church and eight grade II listed buildings would have to be demolished or abandoned, the high street in Harmondsworth split, a graveyard "bulldozed" and the "entire village of Sipson could disappear".[40] John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington has suggested that up to 4,000 houses would actually have to be demolished or abandoned, but aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick defended the plans, saying anyone evicted from their home as a result of expansion would be fully compensated.[41] BAA have committed to preserving the Grade I listed church and tithe barn at Harmondsworth and have assured protection of the value of properties affected by a possible third runway.[42]

Noise and air pollution

Building a third runway at Heathrow will expose hundreds of thousands of residents in certain parts of N.W. and N. London to sustained high levels of aircraft noise for the first time.[43]

Current West London residents are also subject to noise throughout the day (often at 2-minute intervals from 4am). Flights over Paris are banned for a number of reasons including quality of life. West London has large green spaces, many gardens, and riverside areas which would benefit from a reduction in noise pollution from aeroplanes.

Subsidiary arguments

  • There are alternatives. There are alternatives to a third runway that maintain London's connectivity (see below).
  • Reduced emissions through resilience are minimal. Reductions in emissions caused by fewer aircraft delays are tiny compared to the increased emissions from the additional flights for which the runway is to be built.
  • Job creation claims are invalid. If the money supporting the new jobs generated by a third runway was not spent at an expanded Heathrow, it would be spent elsewhere in the economy.[44]

Opponents of expansion

There are many advocacy groups, other groups and prominent individuals who are opposed to expansion:

Advocacy against expansion

Plane Stupid activists on the roof of the Palace of Westminster in 2008 complaining about BAA's close links with government
On the day of Terminal 5's opening hundreds of protesters descended on Heathrow in red Stop Heathrow Expansion T-shirts. The protest was kept out of the news by Terminal 5's opening day baggage system problem.

Various methods were proposed and adopted in attempt to halt expansion:

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats opposed construction and cancelled expansion when elected in the 2010 general election.

In August 2007 the RSPB, Greenpeace, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Woodland Trust, Friends of the Earth, and the National Trust.[58][59] The injunction would have technically have included the Queen; patron of the RSPB and CPRE, Prince Charles; in his position as President of the National Trust, and even some of BAA's own staff.[60]

In February 2008 five members of Plane Stupid who have resisted expansion throughout the process staged a 2-hour protest on the roof of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) in protest at the close links between BAA and the government.[61] They unfurled two large banners were unfurled which read "BAA HQ" and "No 3rd runway at Heathrow".[62]

In April 2008, Plane Stupid claimed that their group was infiltrated by Toby Kendall, 24, an employee of C2i International. The Times reported that he had gone undercover in the group using the name of "Ken Tobias." Airport operator, BAA, who have often been a target of Plane Stupid's campaign, confirmed to The Times that they had been in contact with C2i International but denied ever hiring the company.[63][64] C2i offer their clients "The ability to operate effectively and securely in a variety of hostile environments".[65] and at the time listed 'aerospace' at the top of a list of industries for which it worked.[66]

Certificate of beneficial ownership issued by Greenpeace in respect of the Airplot at Sipson.
In January 2009 [70]

In March 2009 senior MPs demanded a Commons investigation into evidence of a "revolving door" policy between Downing Street, Whitehall and BAA Limited (BAA is a major UK airport operator).[28]

Also in March 2009, Plane Stupid protester Leila Deen threw green custard over Business Secretary Lord Mandelson at a low carbon summit hosted by Gordon Brown in protest at the frequent meetings between Roland Rudd, who represents airport operator BAA and Mandelson and other ministers in the run-up to Labour's decision to go ahead with plans for a third runway at Heathrow.[71]

Hounslow Council are examining the possibility of legal action to prevent expansion, with the support of other London councils and the mayor (Boris Johnson).[72]

In February 2010 The Telegraph reported that the Department for Transport were being investigated by the Information Commissioner's Office and could face a criminal investigation over allegations that it may have deleted or concealed emails to prevent them from being disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The investigation followed a complaint by Justine Greening MP.[73]

In March 2010 campaigners 'won a High Court battle' when Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the government's policy support for a third runway would need to be looked at again and called for a review "of all the relevant policy issues, including the impact of climate change policy". The Department for Transport vowed to "robustly defend" the third runway plan.[74] Following the announcement, Gordon Brown, the prime minister said it was the right decision, that it was "vital not just to our national economy, but enables millions of citizens to keep in touch with their friends and families" and that the judgement would not change its plans. Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said that the ruling meant "Labour's flagship transport policies were in complete disarray".[75]

Alternatives to expansion

The main alternative arguments to Heathrow expansion include greater use of regional airports in the UK to create more capacity in the South East, planned greater use of High Speed 2 which will reduce domestic flights or a whole new airport altogether.

Greater use of regional airports

The United Kingdom has a number of regional airports, which it has been argued can be utilised further to reduce the airport capacity strain on South East England and benefit the whole of the United Kingdom. The 2003 Aviation White Paper mainly argued that increased use of regional airports would increase airport capacity in South East England - a view that the coalition government which came into in 2010 concurs with.[76] Politicians proposing this plan include Theresa Villiers MP[77] and John Leech MP.[78] Business leaders to back the plan include bosses at Birmingham and Cardiff Airports.[79][80][81] The CEO of Manchester Airports Group, the largest British-owned operator of airports and member of the influential Aviation Foundation along with Virgin Atlantic Airways, British Airways and BAA Limited has also proposed greater use of regional airports.[82]

A number of airline bosses have expressed their dissatisfaction at the over-emphasis on the South East regarding aviation policy. Laurie Berryman of Emirates Airlines said in 2013 that, "The business community doesn’t want to come to Heathrow or the South East. They would rather fly long-haul from their local airport. We do hold some rights out of the regions, so I would never say never. One of the things we are keen to say to the Davies Commission, to relieve pressure on the south-east, is why don’t we make all the regional airports completely open skies, so anyone can fly anywhere. Heathrow sits in the south of England, but Manchester has a bigger catchment area in terms of a two-hour drive.”[83] A number of airlines have filled in the gap where British Airways have left regional airports over the past decade.[84]

'Leakage' at regional airports - a term used to describe passengers who need to get connecting flights from a regional airport to an international airport is a major issue. The most notable provincial airport is Manchester Airport which is by far the busiest and largest airport outside South East England with two runways. Four million passengers - approximately 20% of all passengers - need to fly from Manchester to London to get connecting long-haul flights abroad. Likewise, many more millions more fly from other regional airports to connecting flights in London. Advocates argue that flying to international destinations directly from regional airports would immediately create more airport capacity in the South East at a fraction of the cost and time of having a build a new runway or airport. Furthermore, numerous regional airports are under-utilised requiring no immediate expense to take on more passengers. Manchester is the only airport in the United Kingdom other than Heathrow to have two runways and is severely under capacity - Manchester carries 20 million passengers, but has capacity to carry at least 50 million.[85]

Proponents of this idea also suggest the new High Speed 2 network will be vital to the success of regional airports in the future. HS2 will link the three airports of Birmingham, Manchester and East Midlands with London.[86][87] Furthermore, journey times will be competitive - a journey from London Euston to Birmingham Airport will be less than 50 minutes and approximately 65 minutes to Manchester - in comparison the Heathrow Express service to London Paddington takes 25 minutes. Currently rail links exist from London Euston to Birmingham International which takes approximately 70 minutes, whilst journeys to Manchester take over 2 hours with a change required at Manchester Piccadilly station. It is hoped airlines will create a "north-south hub" with more flights from Manchester, with passengers who live or work in London being only an hour away from the airport - thus spreading demand to regional airports and creating more international hub capacity in the South East.[88]

Thames Estuary Airport

Since the 1970s, there have been various proposals to complement or replace Heathrow by a new airport located in the Thames Estuary. This would have the advantage of avoiding flights taking off and landing over London, with all the accompanying noise and pollution,[89] and would also avoid destroying residential areas in west London to expand Heathrow.[90] In November 2008 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced a feasibility study into an airport on an artificial offshore island off the Isle of Sheppey.[91]

Critics point variously to the construction costs,[15] the economic impacts on west London,[92] and the likely increase in CO
emissions through increasing airport capacity.[93]

Following an election pledge not to build a third runway, Prime Minister David Cameron was keen to implement the Thames Estuary hub. However, airlines have spoken out against plans to partially fund the airport with around £8 billion in landing charges from Heathrow. An aviation review is set for the end of 2012 and Cameron has advised: "I do understand it is vitally important that we maintain the sort of hub status that Britain has. There are lots of different options that can be looked at."[94]

High-speed rail

All three main UK parties propose to build a high-speed rail line to the north.

  • In July 2008 Arup proposed a new high-speed rail link from Heathrow to High Speed 1 (map) which would connect Heathrow to north-west Europe at a cost of £4.5bn.[95]
  • In September 2008 the Conservative party announced a proposed line from London to the north of England and suggested that it would reduce the need for short-haul flights, by encouraging passengers to complete their journey by train instead of plane. By pruning short-haul flights from Heathrow, the number of international flights could be expanded, and connectivity enhanced. They predicted that it would allow the cessation of 66,430 domestic flights per year, 30% of the capacity of the planned third runway.[96]
  • In March 2010 the Labour government published detailed plans for High Speed 2 which would link London with Birmingham and subsequently Scotland with a new Old Oak Common railway station in West London which would 'improve surface access by rail to Heathrow Airport.'[n 1] but would not provide a direct service to Heathrow. The route was chosen to relieve congestion on the motorways, rather than replicating an existing route such as the West Coast Main Line.[n 2] It did believe that there would be some "modal shift" to rail, from road and air.[n 3] but not for passengers who arrived at Heathrow by air who it was felt would continue to go by air to their UK destination. HS2 Ltd only anticipate 8% of rail users would have switched from aviation.

Reduce demand

An alternative way to relieve the pressure on Heathrow without building a third runway various suggestions have been made:

  • Personal carbon trading has the potential to encourage individuals to voluntarily change their behaviour and reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.[97]


  1. ^ DfT (2009a), page 17 paragraph 41
  2. ^ DfT (2009a), pages 12-16 paragraphs 32-37
  3. ^ DfT (2009a), page 18 paragraph 47

See also


Documents referenced from 'Notes' section
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External links

  • BBC NEWS Q&A: A third runway at Heathrow
  • Heathrow expansion - London Borough of Hillingdon
  • Heathrow expansion - London Borough of Richmond upon Thames
  • Stop Heathrow Expansion (campaign group)
  • Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN)
  • Airports Commission: interim report, 17. Dec 2013

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