Heathrow runway ready by 2015 under new laws

16.1.2009   (Times)

by Ben Webster

The new runway at Heathrow could be built five years earlier than expected as
the Government rushes the planning process to prevent opponents from blocking
the expansion.

Ministers yesterday asked BAA to submit a planning application as soon as possible
with a view to opening the new runway and terminal as early as 2015.   Previously,
the Government had suggested the runway would not open until 2020.

The £9 billion expansion, which will increase Heathrow’s capacity by almost 50
per cent, is likely to be one of the first projects considered by the new Infrastructure
Planning Commission, due to be appointed this year.

The commission will make the final decision, rather than the current practice
of a planning inspector making a recommendation to ministers. The inquiry will
be much shorter and simply consider whether the application complies with the
Government’s aviation policy, giving only limited scope to objectors.

There were angry scenes in the Commons as Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary,
announced that he was approving the runway.

Far from conceding defeat, the environmental and heritage groups opposing the
runway pledged to step up their campaign, both in the courts and by direct action
at airports.

The Conservatives repeated their pledge to scrap the runway if they win the next
election. However, blocking the plans will become more difficult once the planning
process is under way. Lord Adonis, the Transport Minister, told The Times: "It is possible it could open in 2015 if the planning process is completed
in time."

He said that the Government’s decision to reject plans for more intensive use
of the existing runways made it imperative to build the third one as soon as possible.
He admitted that the absence of extra capacity in the next few years meant that
Heathrow would continue to operate more than 99 per cent full and be prone to
long delays after even minor incidents.

BAA welcomed the decision and said it was confident of being able to comply with
environmental conditions. Mr Hoon said that airlines would only be allowed to
use half the capacity of the new runway, or 125,000 flights a year, until 2020.

Flights would rise after that if total emissions from UK aviation were on course
to fall below 2005 levels by 2050. He said that a £250 million fund to boost sales
of electric cars would more than make up for emissions from the expansion. Mr
Hoon also announced a study into a high-speed rail line linked to Heathrow but
did not make a commitment to building it.

Greenpeace said: "If Gordon Brown thinks this is a green runway he must be colour-blind."
It said that more than 20,000 people had offered to invest in the piece of land
it has bought on the site of the proposed expansion.