BAA to give up on third Heathrow runway

11.10.2009   (Sunday Times)


THE airport operator BAA has bowed to opposition to a third runway at Heathrow
airport.     It will not submit a planning application before the general election
and will not sign large contracts to "bounce" a future Conservative government
into accepting it.

Senior BAA figures have also told the Tories the company will cease to fight
for the third runway if they form the next government.

Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, said: "Last week BAA conveyed
to us at our party conference that it will not be submitting a planning application
before the election.

"It seems BAA has woken up to the fact that we mean what we say on Heathrow and
that if we win the general election there will be no third runway."

Labour pushed through the runway plan despite the opposition of Hilary Benn,
the environment secretary, and Ed Miliband, the energy and climate secretary.
Residents and campaigners accused ministers of sacrificing their green credentials
to the aviation lobby.

Geoff Hoon, then transport secretary, approved the £9 billion third runway and
sixth terminal last January and ministers indicated the project would be rushed
through, making it more difficult for the Tories to overturn the decision.

The announcement at last week’s Conservative conference that a Tory government
would block expansion of London’s big airports has forced BAA to reappraise the
scheme.   Its new stance means the taxpayer will not be forced to pay a large sum in compensation
for any wasted work

Publicly, BAA executives are urging the Tories not to "close the door" on expansion
plans and say they are still working on the project.   But they admitted they were
surrendering in a meeting with aides to Villiers last week.

BAA said: "We will always respect the right of the government to take the decision
it thinks is the right one." Some suspect BAA’s position is a tactical ploy and
it will continue to work behind the scenes to convince the Tories of the need
for expansion.

But the scheme’s opponents are delighted.

"The game is up for BAA," said Edward Lister, leader of Wandsworth council and spokesman for the 2M Group, an alliance of
local authorities opposing expansion.     "The third runway will never happen and
they know it.    It’s a spectacular result for the campaign."

John Stewart, chairman of Hacan (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) ClearSkies,
said:  "There are all sorts of reasons that businesses come to London and Heathrow
is just one of them."

Expansion of Heathrow risked undermining Britain’s commitment to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions by 80% by 2050.     It was also claimed expansion would breach European
limits on nitrogen dioxide levels around the airport.

BAA and British Airways said the runway was needed to ensure Heathrow can compete
with large European airports.   The airport operator wanted annual flights to increase
from 480,000 to more than 700,000.

A group of councils, backed by Boris Johnson, the London mayor, is seeking a
judicial review of Hoon’s decision, arguing the consultation process was flawed and the decision
irrational.     A High Court hearing is expected later this year.

Greenpeace has a plot of land -Airplot – on the site of the proposed runway,
with the ownership split between thousands of its supporters.   Those who said
they would never sell their plots to BAA include Emma Thompson, the actress, and
Alistair McGowan, the comedian.

Business groups argue Heathrow will fall into decline unless it is allowed to
expand.   Lord Soley, campaign director of Future Heathrow, said: "The Conservatives
will have to find another international hub or reverse their decision."

The Tories also oppose second runways at Stansted and Gatwick.   They are likely
to consider building a new international hub.   Boris Johnson supports the building
of a new airport at the Thames Estuary and BAA said it was now prepared to consider
the estuary option, previously dismissed as costly and "unrealistic" by critics.





"Senior BAA figures have also told the Tories the company will cease to fight
for the third runway if they form the next government. " (1)

In a shock turnaround, BAA has apparently shelved plans to devastate homes and
communities across West London and put residents first.

For over seven years, local residents with the support of Hillingdon Council,
local MPs and people from across the South East, have been actively campaigning
against a third runway at Heathrow. The plans for the airport’s expansion, equal
in size to Gatwick(2), being built in the borough of Hillingdon, represents the
most unprecedented social and environmental threat for generations.

Following the Government’s unpopular decision in January this year, hundreds
of homes would be demolished; villages, schools and livelihoods destroyed and
thousands left to a life of blight across West London and the Home Counties.

Geraldine Nicholson, Chairman of NoTRAG said: "For over seven years, residents
have pulled together, come together and campaigned together to stop a third runway.
 This may be our moment and a victory for future generations.
She added:   "If BAA can swiftly drop their plans following the party conference
season then this clearly shows there has never been a compelling case for a third
runway.   I now call on the current Government to follow BAA’s welcome decision
and abandon its craving for a third runway at Heathrow and at long last put residents

Notes for Editors –

(1) BAA to give up on third Heathrow runway – Sunday Times 11

October 2009

(2) Gatwick Airport is the busiest single runway airport in the world.

NoTRAG is an active residents’ organisation, supported by the London Borough

of Hillingdon, which is opposed to the building of a third runway at Heathrow

NoTRAG Press Release
see also
Comment from CRASH in Chiswick:
The coalition against expansion has been working hard to garner support and today
it was reported in The Sunday Times that
BAA has finally bowed to opposition and will not submit a planning application for the third runway before the general
election.  Furthermore, it will not sign any large contracts to “bounce” a future
Conservative government into accepting it, nor will it fight for the third runway
if the Conservatives win the election.

On the face of it this is excellent news.   The government’s attempts to speed
up the process by rushing through the Planning Act last year and pressing BAA to open the third runway and sixth terminal by 2015 have come to naught and leaves its aviation strategy in tatters.   But ask yourself
this question:   Why would BAA give a commitment now not to press for the third

Sir John Egan, its former boss, had said that Terminal Five would not add to
pressure for a third runway.    In January this year, BAA admitted: “That’s what
he had to say to get permission for Terminal Five.”      
Heathrow’s history is a history of deception and BAA has a habit of saying what it thinks it needs to say to get its way,
so has anything really changed?

We suspect that BAA believes it is futile to be pushing for the third runway
when there could be a new administration next year which is hostile to the idea.  
Last week’s announcement that the Conservatives will make a manifesto commitment
to scrap plans for Heathrow expansion was the clincher.  Better to change lobbying
strategy now, start to build bridges with the potential new administration and
revisit expansion alternatives at a later date.   There are other battles to fight,
such as the Competition Commission’s forced breakup of BAA’s London monopoly.

But one thing is certain: the beast will not be satisfied.   It is in BAA’s DNA
to push for more and more capacity.

It appears that BAA’s push for the third runway is only on hold until the election.  
They will only cease the fight if the Conservatives win.   Don’t kid yourselves
that BAA won’t still be working ceaselessly with the DfT until then.

We will believe the campaign is over when all political parties state unequivocally
that there will be no further expansion of Heathrow.

So while we welcome today’s news we remain cautious.     BAA’s history is a history
of broken promises.     We don’t need another.