How are Heathrow’s plans for a 3rd runway coming along? (They are not)
There are still “a number of serious hurdles to overcome” before Heathrow could consider a 3rd runway. Heathrow director of communities and sustainability Becky Coffin confirmed that the project remains paused and under internal review. There are the inevitable impacts on the UK’s net zero, noise, air quality and road congestion, which remain serious and although surface transport decarbonisation is advancing, so-called ‘jet zero’ is some way behind (or probably impossible). The Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) approving the policy of Heathrow expansion (eventually cleared by the Supreme Court) is nearly 5 years old and calls to revisit it are growing. Meanwhile, other airports are getting on with their expansion plans which mean that any carbon allocation for airports is getting used up at Heathrow’s expense, so it will get left behind. ie. Bristol, Southampton, Stansted, Luton, Gatwick, Manston. Despite the ANP win, the £14bn expansion plans have remained frozen due to Covid, and Heathrow’s lack of available funds. In March 2021 the airport put its £900M T5 rail link on “controlled pause”, citing lack of funds. But in May 2022, Heathrow resumed purchasing houses in proximity to the proposed site.
What’s next for paused Heathrow Airport expansion?
14 FEB, 2023
BY CATHERINE MOORE (NCE)
With continued debate over Heathrow’s paused expansion plans and a new chief executive soon to be appointed, NCE takes a look at what the future might hold for the airport and its proposed third runway.
Plans to expand Heathrow with a third runway remain on ice after being paused during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the airport’s current chief executive John Holland-Kaye has said that his successor should be focused on delivering that project.
Last year, Virgin Atlantic pulled its support for the third runway in a blow to supporters of the expansion project but Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) has said the Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened the strategic case for expansion. NCE understands that talks have taken place between HAL officials and legal representatives about the process of restarting the expansion project.
However change is afoot at the airport. After nine years as chief executive, Holland-Kaye informed the board earlier this month of his plans to stand down during 2023. A selection process for his replacement is underway and Holland-Kaye will remain as chief executive until his successor begins.
Holland-Kaye’s tenure saw the development of the plan for Heathrow expansion that secured Parliamentary approval and he remains an advocate of the proposals.
When he announced he was to stand down as chief executive, he told The Independent: “We are still committed to expansion. We’ve already started some of the preliminary work on expansion, now that we have started to have the bandwidth to do that. We’ll be saying more about our plans with that later this year.”
He emphasised that the pandemic had “shown just how important it is” for a third runway to be built, to increase capacity and resilience.
“All of the arguments we made about the opportunity to get the more long-haul markets happened over Covid when suddenly slots were available,” he said.
“Suddenly we were able to offer more regional markets in the UK, connecting all of Britain to global growth. We also saw people realise just how important cargo is. As we were bringing in PPE it reminded people that unless you’ve got passenger planes flying, we don’t have the trade routes that we need. So I think that has reinforced why Heathrow expansion so important.
“We weren’t even allowed to talk about expansion in 2010 after the coalition government came in and yet by 2017 we were getting a majority of 4-1 [in favour of building a third runway] in Parliament. That’s a fantastic turnaround and exactly the right thing for for the country.”
However, during a London Assembly Meeting last week, Conservative Assembly Member for Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea Tony Devenish asked airport bosses if the third runway project was “back on” or paused, adding that “it’s always been difficult to find out what you are doing”. He said that in his 20 years in politics Heathrow Airport has been “consistently opaque”.
Heathrow director of communities and sustainability Becky Coffin confirmed that the project remains paused and under internal review. She said that Heathrow is “continually striving to be clearer and provide more accessible information and we’re also trying to do that in different ways to reach a wider range of people”.
BDB Pitmans infrastructure planning partner Angus Walker told NCE that while there are “rumours that Heathrow expansion is back on the cards” there are still “a number of serious hurdles to overcome before that would happen”.
He added: “The likely impacts on net zero, noise, air quality and road congestion remain serious and although surface transport decarbonisation is advancing, so-called ‘jet zero’ is some way behind. The Airports National Policy Statement approving the policy of Heathrow expansion (eventually cleared by the Supreme Court) is nearly five years old and calls to revisit it are growing.
“Meanwhile, other airports are getting on with their expansion plans which mean that any carbon allocation for airports is getting used up at Heathrow’s expense and so it is in danger of getting left behind. Bristol, Southampton and Stansted have had expansion plans approved and have (so far) headed off court challenges, Luton and Gatwick are both about to apply for Development Consent Orders to expand, and Manston in Kent has been granted one (also being challenged in the courts).”
A Heathrow Airport spokesperson said: “Our expansion project remains in pause. We are currently conducting an internal review on the project and will able to give an update later this year.”
The third runway would boost the airport’s capacity by 50%, allowing it to handle up to 280,000 extra flights a year. The project came through its court battle in late 2020, when the Supreme Court overturned the ban on the expansion.
Despite the court win, the £14bn expansion plans have remained on ice due to the pandemic and in March 2021 the airport put its £900M T5 rail link on “controlled pause”, citing lack of funds. Nonetheless, the third runway project still seemed to be in the works in May 2021, as Heathrow resumed purchasing houses in proximity to the proposed site.
The airport’s plans for net zero aviation by 2050 do, however, remain on-track. It recently updated its Heathrow 2.0 plan for sustainable growth, although aviation experts have said it does not adequately factor in expansion emissions and relies too heavily on the development of negative emission technologies.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation on its target for all airport operations in England to be zero emission by 2040.
The Jet Zero Strategy – published in July 2022 – sets out the vision for an aviation sector which reaches net zero emissions by 2050, along with ambitions for airport operations in England to be zero emissions by 2040.
To achieve this target, the DfT needs to gather more information to help design the policy, including the scope of the target and route for implementation.