Heathrow plans its 3rd runway to bridge the M25 in 3 sections – one runway and two separate taxiways
New plans to build Heathrow’s third runway over the M25 have been drawn up as the airport prepares to stagger its huge expansion over three decades to minimise disruption. [And cut the costs, so it is not quite so unaffordable. But remember the calculations of alleged economic benefit to the UK were made on the assumption of the airport being full quickly. AW comment].
The Times has learnt that Heathrow will propose a new runway and parallel taxiways over one of the country’s busiest roads.
Images released by the airport indicate that the M25, which widens to 12 lanes past Heathrow, would be rebuilt in a tunnel west of its present route.
Two openings in the tunnel between the taxiways and runway would improve stability, ventilation and visibility on the road. [And probably be a cheaper alternative, to doing it properly, with a full tunnel. AW comment]
Plans to cross the M25 have been revised after talks with Highways England, which had raised concerns about the risk of damage to the tunnel by landing aircraft. It was also feared that drivers may be distracted by planes overhead.
Runways elsewhere in the world also cross busy roads, including those at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, but the volume of traffic on the M25 west of London poses a massive logistical challenge.
The plans will be unveiled on Tuesday 18th June as part of a three-month public consultation into Heathrow’s £14 billion expansion. [Down from about £18 billion, as Heathrow just could not afford that much. AW comment]
The third runway is fiercely opposed by several local councils, environmental groups and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, who fear that it will worsen air quality and increase aircraft noise. Almost 800 homes will be demolished to make way for the runway.
It will also test Boris Johnson if he becomes prime minister. He has been a vocal opponent of a third runway and pledged to lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent it being built.
Heathrow will seek to soften the impact of expansion by spreading the work over as long as 30 years.
The two-mile runway northwest of Heathrow will allow the airport to increase annual flight numbers by 54 per cent, from a maximum of 480,000 to 740,000. It will ultimately be able to accommodate 135 million passengers, up from almost 81 million. [Just at a time when the planet does NOT need more carbon emissions, and the UK government has declared a “climate emergency”. The expansion of Heathrow is entirely incompatible with that. AW comment]
Only the runway would be built by the planned opening date of early 2026. Other facilities such as new terminals, car parks, hotels and transit systems would open from 2030, with an expansion of Terminal 5 the priority.
The consultation will also outline plans to introduce an extra 25,000 flights a year on the first two runways. Heathrow will propose to implement a six-and-a-half hour ban on flights overnight to provide respite to nearby residents.
The airport insisted that expanding in phases would keep costs down and minimise the impact on passengers. It would also ensure that airline landing fees, which add more than £20 to each ticket, are kept as low as possible. Airlines warn that fare increases would price some out of using Heathrow. [Notice, there is never a mention of all the people on the ground, who are not taking the flights, who will be negatively affected. The focus is always only on the passengers. Always. AW comment]
Critics are sceptical that the expansion can be built within the £14 billion, privately financed budget.
The Times has learnt that Heathrow will propose huge expansions of Terminal 5 and Terminal 2. A satellite terminal known as T5X would be built north of Terminal 5 and next to the new runway.
Plans to be unveiled next week also include two huge car parks north and south of the airport, new hotels and an underground transit system that would provide links to the new facilities. [The new car parks are because Heathrow loves the income from cars, but it tries to claim there will be no more car/vehicle journeys, even with the new runway. Contradiction? AW comment]
The only issue that will not be open to consultation next week will be the position of new flight paths. This will be decided during a national reform of aviation in the next few years. [So nobody responding to the consultation will have any idea of where the worst noise impacts will be. For many, that would be THE most important aspect of the consultation. AW comment]
The Aurora Group, a hotel owner-operator, is working on an alternative plan which it claims can expand Heathrow at a fraction of the cost. Surinder Arora, the group’s chairman, said: “We fail to see how they can stay within their £14 billion budget or deliver it on time. It’s too elaborate, almost like they want to build an entire city at the airport rather than focus on the passenger. We will do it for less money and quicker.”
Parmjit Dhanda, executive director of Back Heathrow, a pro-expansion group, [an “astroturf group, managed and paid for entirely by Heathrow, while trying to masquerade as a local group, of local people who are in favour of the runway. AW comment] said: “China is looking to build over 130 new civil airports in the next few years and we have struggled to build a new runway in the southeast since the Second World War. It really is time we got on with this.”
The long wait for take-off
September 2012 The coalition government sets up a commission to assess options for a new runway in the southeast. The Airports Commission.
July 2015 The commission recommends a third runway at Heathrow.
October 2016 Heathrow is ratified by the government, prompting the resignation of the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.
June 2018 MPs vote heavily in favour of Heathrow expansion, effectively awarding the airport outline planning permission. The Airports National Policy Statement – NPS.
May 2019 Campaigners lose a High Court challenge against the government’s approval. They are appealing, and the result of that appeal is not yet known.
June 18, 2019 Heathrow to launch a statutory public consultation on the location of the runway, new terminals, roads, hotels and the demolition of homes. This consultation is one Heathrow has to do, as part of the DCO (Development Consent Order) process for planning.
Early 2020 Heathrow will use findings from the consultation to apply for a development consent order DCO, or detailed planning permission.
Mid 2021 The planning inspectorate will make a recommendation to the transport secretary for the final decision on the development consent order. The final decision is taken by the Transport Secretary (currently Grayling).
Late 2021 Work to start on the new runway and realignment of the M25.
Early 2026 Third runway is due to open.
2030 Expansion of Terminal 5 to be partially complete, with reconfigured cargo area and some new hotels.
2035 Further work on existing terminal expansion and new T5 satellite terminal.
2050 All terminals fully built and Terminal 3 replaced. More taxiways added to improve airfield performance.
Heathrow consultation: their suggestions of how to deal with M25, tunnel, bridge, altered junctions etc
As part of its consultation on its proposed 3rd runway, Heathrow has a section on what it hopes is done with the M25, so the runway can go over it. This is a very expensive and complicate operation, and Heathrow is keen to cut the cost. The proposed runway will cross the M25 between Junctions 14 and 15 (J14 and J15) and will affect the operation of J14 and J14a, but not J15. Other than moving the motorway a long way west, the options are tunnelling or bridging. Heathrow says: “Our current thinking is to re-position the M25 carriageway approximately 150 metres to the west, lower it by approximately 7 metres into a tunnel and raise the runway height by 3 to 5 metres so that it passes over the M25 between J14a and J15. The motorway will then re-join its current route. …We believe this approach is the most deliverable as it would allow construction to proceed while the existing M25 motorway remains in operation. This minimises impacts to road users and has the least overall impacts on communities during construction and long-term operation.” And they say the 3rd runway will mean more traffic will want to pass through junctions 14 and 14A, so they will need to be expanded. Illustrations show some different options.
IAG warns the “costs and complexity” of bridging M25 could be major problem for Heathrow runway plans
British Airways’ owner International Airlines Group (IAG) estimates bridging the M25, close to the M4 junction, would cost £2 billion-£3 billion. The Airports Commission suggested the cost could be higher, with £5 billion for local road upgrades, including the tunnel. The Commission said Heathrow should pay for these, as part of the cost of building its runway. The cost and complexity of somehow putting the runway over the busiest, widest section of motorway in the UK are considerable. IAG, as by far the largest airline at Heathrow, does not want to be charged for this work, which would mean putting up the price of its air tickets. IAG says there is no detailed risk and cost analysis of the airport’s plans on what to do with the M25, though a bridge is cheaper than a tunnel. Willie Walsh said: “Airlines were never consulted on the runway length and they can operate perfectly well from a slightly shorter runway that doesn’t cross the M25.” He wants Heathrow to build a shorter runway of 3,200m rather than 3,500m that does not require going over the M25. But that would mean the motorway directly at the end of the runway, in the worse danger zone. IAG says: “We will not pay for a runway that threatens both costs and delays spiralling out of control and where critical elements of the project could be undeliverable.”
Heathrow now considering (not tunnel or bridge) but cheaper series of “viaducts” over M25
Heathrow has a huge problem in how to get a runway over the busiest, widest stretch of the M25. The original plan was a full 14-lane tunnel about 2,000 feet long. Then there were plans for a sort of bridge over the road. Even those would be prohibitively expensive (Heathrow says it would only pay £1.1 billion on roads etc). Now there are plans, by Phil Wilbraham, who oversaw the construction of Heathrow’s terminals 2 and 5, to build a cheaper system. It would be 3 parallel bridges across the M25, with narrow ones for taxiways at the side, and a wider one for the runway in the centre. The plan is for a 2 mile long runway, to take even the largest planes. The main airline at Heathrow, British Airways, suggested a runway about 1,000 feet shorter, that would not need to cross the motorway, but that might not be able to take A380s, and would mess up the flight patterns. The earlier “bridge” concept would have meant the runway would be on a slight slope, to get over the motorway. The cost of moving the thousands of tonnes of earth would be immense, and it is thought Heathrow has had to reconsider. The airlines do not want to have to pay for the building costs of roads etc associated with a 3rd runway. The government does not want to force Heathrow to pay, as this would mean increasing the cost of flying – and reduce demand at Heathrow.
Heathrow boss rules out footing the £5 billion bill for road and rail works – wants taxpayer to pay
The Airports Commission left the matter of who would pay for the approximately £5 billion needed to tunnel a section of the M25, and other surface access improvements, vague. The assumption has been made that the taxpayer would have to fund this, though the Airports Commission suggested that Heathrow would be able to find the funding from its investors for this. Now the CEO of Heathrow has dismissed the suggestion that the airport foots the £5 billion bill for road and rail work if a 3rd runway is built. Huge motorway engineering would be needed, to have the runway going over the motorway. John Holland-Kaye has ruled out paying for the surface access work. Though the government funds road and rail improvements under normal circumstances, tunnelling the M25 and dealing with hugely increased road traffic using an airport 50% larger than at present are not normal circumstances. Especially in times of huge economic savings being necessary in public finances. The Commission’s final report said it considered the runway was commercially viable “without a requirement for direct government support. This remains the case even in a situation where the airport is required to fund 100% of the surface access costs.” This would be by Heathrow “raising both debt and equity finance. This finance is then serviced through subsequent revenues and refinancing by the airport operator.”