Heathrow’s commitment on 4th runway – what is Heathrow really saying?

The Airports Commission said, in giving its recommendation that a 3rd Heathrow runway should be built, that a firm condition was that no 4th runway should ever be built there. The Commission’s wording in its Final Report (1.7.2015) was: “A fourth runway should be firmly ruled out. The government should make a commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further. There is no sound operational or environmental case for a four runway Heathrow.” And  “This may be as part of a National Policy Statement or through legislation.” What Heathrow has now said is that it will: “Accept a commitment from Government ruling out any fourth runway.”  This does not say this ban on a 4th runway would be in legislation. It merely says there would be a commitment. But the coalition government made a commitment not to build a 3rd runway, in 2010. That commitment was then overturned in the next Parliament.  It scarcely encourages trust.  A commentator in the Huffington Post says (as well as the long history of Heathrow’s broken promises)  that allowing the 3rd Heathrow runway would effectively say Heathrow is now and ever will be the UK’s hub airport.  Hub airports actually “need at least four runways and preferably room to expand further.


What the Airports Commission’s Final Report said (P 11):

“A fourth runway should be firmly ruled out. The government should make a commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further. There is no sound operational or environmental case for a four runway Heathrow.”


(Page 32)

“Government should make a firm commitment in Parliament to rule out any fourth runway at Heathrow, for which there is no operational or environmental case. This may be as part of a National Policy Statement or through legislation.”


(Page 309)

“14.117   In addition, the physical geography challenge of fitting a fourth runway in at Heathrow would be increasingly great. The Commission considered the extent to which the shortlisted schemes might be able to accommodate further significant expansion, but it was not possible to identify any option for a fourth runway at the Heathrow site that could be delivered without incurring both reduced benefits and substantially increased financial and environmental costs.

14.118   Moreover, while there is a potential demand case for a second additional runway in the South East by 2050, it does not follow that there would necessarily be an economic or environmental case for such a development.

14.119   Nonetheless, given the history of development at Heathrow, the Commission recognises that the local communities may be mistrustful of such statements, particularly if coming from the airport itself. That is why the Commission recommends that the Government make a firm ruling in Parliament on the matter. A statement that there should be no fourth runway at Heathrow made as part of a National Policy Statement or through legislation would be the best way to give lasting reassurance to communities.”


The wording of what Heathrow now proposes:


“Ruling out any fourth runway. The government should make a commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further.”

Heathrow’s proposal

Meeting the Airports Commission

Accept a commitment from Government ruling out any fourth runway.


On 11th May:

Heathrow makes guarded, carefully worded, offers to meet Airports Commission conditions for 3rd runway

Heathrow knows it has a difficult task in persuading the government that it can actually meet the (unchallenging) conditions put on its runway plans by the Airports Commission. Now John Holland-Kaye has written to David Cameron, setting out how Heathrow hopes to meet some conditions. They make out they will even exceed the conditions, in some cases. On Night flights, they say they will introduce a “legally binding ban on all scheduled night flights for six and a half hours (as recommended by the Airports Commission) from 11 pm to 5:30 am when the third runway opens.” [Note, scheduled – not late arrivals etc]. And they will “support the earlier introduction of this extended ban on night flights by Government as soon as the necessary airspace has been modernised after planning consent for the third runway has been secured.” [ie. full of caveats]. They dodge the issue of agreeing not to build a 4th runway, saying it they government makes a commitment in Parliament not to expand Heathrow further, then Heathrow will “Accept a commitment from Government ruling out any fourth runway..” [Words carefully chosen]. On noise and respite, Heathrow say “We will ensure there will be some respite for everyone living under the final flight path by using advances in navigational technology. We will consult and provide options on our proposals to alternate use of the runways.” [ie carefully chosen words, avoiding giving much away].

Click here to view full story…

Comment in the Huffington Post:

Heathrow Concessions Fail to Hide Stark Flaws in Expansion Proposal


By Keith Prince, who is Conservative London Assembly Member for Havering & Redbridge

This morning Heathrow Airport announced a number of suggested concessions that they believe should enable them to build a third runway. Some of these, such as a reduction in night flights, would be welcome, but the list was striking for its significant flaws.

Heathrow has promised that it would not seek to build a fourth runway should it be allowed to build a third. However this is a highly dubious promise for two reasons:

First, Heathrow has a long history of promising (see below) that its next expansion will be its last expansion. Over the years Londoners have been told that the fourth terminal would be the last time Heathrow expanded. We were told the same thing when Heathrow gained permission to build a fifth terminal. There is no reason to believe that a third runway would mean the end of the line for Heathrow expansion.

Secondly, is what a third runway at Heathrow would mean for London’s hub capacity. Allowing a third runway would effectively be a statement saying that Heathrow is now and ever will be London’s and the UK’s hub airport. Hub airports, as we have seen around the world, need to have at least four runways and preferably room to expand further. At the moment there is the opportunity to recognise that Heathrow was built in the wrong place and that we should build a new airport, ideally in the Thames Estuary. If a third runway is approved then the Government will be almost closing the door on the most sensible alternative to an ever-expanding Heathrow.

Nevertheless the dubious promise of an end to expansion if the third runway could just be granted was not the most extraordinary suggestion this morning.

The idea that extending the Ultra-Low Emission Zone – which is currently due to be introduced with the same boundaries as the Congestion Charge Zone in 2020 – to the M25 would enable the expansion of Heathrow is truly ridiculous. What they are effectively saying is that every single car, van or black cab driver in London would need to buy a new low-emission vehicle in order to make the Heathrow expansion conceivable.

Heathrow is facing air quality issues that simply cannot be overcome. If the best they can offer is a ham-fisted proposal that would severely impact small businesses and drivers across London then today should be the day that the idea of a Heathrow expansion is knocked on the head for good.



That 1999 Sir John Egan “Dear Neighbour” letter

The “Dear Neighbour” letter dated April 1999, from Sir John Egan (then Chairman of BAA, the owner of Heathrow) setting out a range of claims about how Terminal 5 would not make the situation worse for residents. This included the promise there would be no new runway.

Sir John Egan Dear Neighbour April 1999

See the letter, saved on the HACAN website:



The History of broken promises over Heathrow’s 3rd runway 

In 1995 Heathrow denied it would want a 3rd runway. It persisted in denying this until 2003, when it came out as lobbying for one.
This Friends of the Earth briefing gives the history, up to 2008, of the broken promises.   http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/heathrow_broken_promises.pdf
FoE says that in 2001 “BAA echoes BA’s denial and says it is not pushing for a third runway at Heathrow. “It is the company’s view that the local communities around Heathrow should be give (sic) assurances. BAA would urge the government to rule out any additional runway at Heathrow.”
In November 2001, having sat on the Terminal 5 Inquiry Inspector Vandermeer’s report for almost a year, the Government announces its decision on T5 and releases the inspector’s report. The inspector says that a 3rd runway could have “unacceptable environmental consequences”. He recommends a cap on the number of flights at 480,000 a year in order to prevent the need for a third runway.
Then FoE says: “On 13 May 2003, BAA plc admits publicly that it wants third runway at Heathrow.  In its response to the Government’s airport consultation BAA short-lists a third runway at Heathrow and claims that this is part of the company’s approach of ‘responsible growth’. “
During the 2010 election, local election campaign material in west London said:

No ifs No buts


Actual text from Conservative election leaflet for the May 2010 election.   Full leaflet at  http://www.electionleaflets.org/leaflets/full/b58fa8c95aec5d810bfe2ebb16bcbf91/


The  Coalition’s “Programme for Government” written in May 2010 states:

• “We will cancel the third runway at Heathrow.   • We will refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.”




Beryl Wilkins, a retired teacher, questioned why past promises were allowed to be broken, including an inspector who had said in a consultation meeting that Terminal 4 would be the last.

Nigel Milton, director of policy and political relations for Heathrow, said: “The people who made those promises weren’t in a position to make these promises.”


John Holland-Kaye also made a similar comment at an Airports Commission public meeting on 3.12.2014 :

Heathrow Airport boss apologises for ruling out Third Runway in 1990s, saying: ‘We got it wrong’

3 DEC 2014

Heathrow’s CEO has apologised for broken promises that he said have ‘hung over the airport’s relationship with local communities’.

John Holland-Kaye made the apology at the Airports Commission’s consultation conference today (Wednesday, December 3), where options for expanding either Heathrow or Gatwick are being discussed.

He said he was sorry for the airport’s past commitment, made almost 20 years ago, to permanently rule out building a third runway.

He said: “I am shocked by that commitment. It should never have been made. And it could never be kept. That is not an excuse. It is an apology. I am sorry Heathrow made that commitment. It has hung over the relationship with local communities, and has led to a deficit of trust that can only be repaired by demonstrating we are a different company from the past.”

Details at  http://www.getwestlondon.co.uk/news/local-news/heathrow-airport-boss-apologises-ruling-8219853