Heathrow Third Runway

This page contains information on and links relating to the history of,  and the campaign against, plans for a third runway at Heathrow.


Plans for a 3rd runway were rejected by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010.   BAA also announced then that it was scrapping plans for a 3rd runway. Earlier the Labour Government had announced in January 2009 that they would allow a 3rd runway at Heathrow.
Now the prospect of a 3rd runway has returned – only 3 years later.

Current situation

Bowing to pressure from the aviation industry and its lobby, in 2012 the Coalition government decided to hand the decision of what to do about a 3rd runway to an “independent” body, the Airports Commission (with DfT secretariat), to report finally in 2015, a month or two after the May 2015 general election.

The Commission produced its interim report in December 2013, with two options for a 3rd Heathrow runway short-listed.

The airport is now likely (January 2014) to hold a local consultation on which of the two options (a North-West runway destroying Harmondsworth and Sipson, or the northern option by “Heathrow Hub”) the residents of the area “prefer”. The Commission will require both submissions to be fleshed out in detail and submitted by 9th May 2014. They may be published then, or not till later. Then after October 2014, the Airports Commission is due to hold a public consultation, on the detailed schemes, lasting perhaps till December 2014. Its final recommendation to the government of the day would be made in summer 2015. None of the parties has committed itself to accepting the Commission’s recommendation.

History of broken promises over Heathrow.  See below.

Heathrow Airport’s own 3rd runway option, being considered by Airports Commission

Heathrow  has now been short-listed by the Airports Commission for a new runway (December 2013).

Heathrow submitted their proposal for 3rd runway (and eventually a 4th, to the Airports Commission in July 2013.  The short version can be seen at

A New Approach – summary document  

and the full details are on the Heathrow website. They say:

“Heathrow’s submission of options for additional capacity to the Airports Commission is available in full here. This is the full submission document, which was submitted to the Commission in July 2013 and contains all technical information available at this stage regarding the proposals.

Included in this document are details of our proposals for additional capacity to the North West of Heathrow Airport, which has been short-listed for further consideration by the Airports Commission and will now be examined in more detail.

Following the Airports Commission’s interim report in December 2013, we will be working closely with local residents as options are developed in more detail during the next stage of the Airports Commission process.”

Long-term Hub Capacity Options: full submission document

Supporting maps

North-Western option

North-Western option – potential optimisation  (ie runway very slightly further south, leaving the heart of Harmondsworth, the church, the ancient and wonderful Tithe barn within a few yards of the edge of the runway)

South-Western option  (not short-listed by the Commission)

Northern option  (not short-listed by the Commission)


An option – not from the airport itself – put forward by a company called “Heathrow Hub” is for an extension to the west of the current northern runway. Details below.

The North-West runway option  map (which destroys Sipson and Harmondsworth)

Heathrow northwest runway option

The North-West option “optimisation” map (which leaves the heart of Harmondsworth alongside the runway)

Heathrow northwest optimisation map



The “Heathrow Hub” 3rd runway proposal, short-listed by the Airports Commission

Their plans can be seen at http://www.heathrowhub.com/

The Airports Commission, in December 2013 in their Interim Report, short-listed the northern option (not the whole proposal).

Their full submission is at http://www.heathrowhub.com/media/download_pdf/Report_190713_Rev_A.pdf

It would look something like this:

Heathrow hub northern runway

The southern option would have meant building a runway over the Wraysbury reservoir, with all the attendant problems.


Heathrow Airport board approve submitting 3rd runway plan (with option for 4th) to Airports Commission

Date added: June 28, 2013

The board of Heathrow Airport Holdings is reported to have authorised its management to present its case to build a 3rd runway to the Airports Commission, in July. Heathrow is considering several options for the runway’s location. It wants the runway as soon as possible. Heathrow will also tell the Commission that they should have the option to build a 4th runway at some later date, if there is sufficient demand for it. Heathrow believes funders will be willing to stump up the £10 billion or so, with sufficient certainty of the returns on their investment. But some Heathrow shareholders are privately warning they could reassess their willingness to pay for a 3rd runway if the CAA enforces an effective cut in the airport’s charges to airlines over the next 5 years. Heathrow repeatedly emphasises that a huge hub airport is best for the airlines, as that enables them to be the most profitable. The Airports Commission has the task of ensuring that the UK retains its status as a key hub for global aviation, not merely catering for UK demand for air travel. The phrase “a world class airport for a world class city” is popular with the Heathrow lobby.   Click here to view full story…

Back in 2010:

Heathrow – Judicial Review



The Government’s Heathrow policy is in tatters this morning after the High Court
ruled that ministers’ decision to give a green light to the proposed 3rd runway
at Heathrow does not hold any weight. The judge dismissed the Government’s claims
to the contrary as ‘untenable in law and common sense’. If the Government wants
to pursue its plans for Heathrow expansion it must now go back to square one and
reconsider the entire case for the runway. The implications of today’s ruling
are profound, not just for Heathrow but for airport expansion plans across the
UK. Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper – the
foundation of expansion plans across the country – is obsolete because it is inconsistent
with the Climate Change Act 2008.           More …..


 Heathrow Victory in the High Court – an assessment of what it means

Legal challenge launched against Government’s decision to back Heathrow 3rd runway 
(at the High Court on 23rd February 2010)
A coalition representing millions of people launched a legal challenge against
the Government over its decision to give BAA permission to draw up detailed plans
for a 3rd runway at Heathrow.   The coalition includes residents’ organisations
NoTRAG and HACAN, 7 local councils,   Greenpeace, RSPB, CPRE  and  WWF.
The key points of the challenge were:
– That the UK risks breaching noise targets and the EU legal limits on air pollution;
–  That the decision will seriously undermine the Government’s efforts to meet its emissions target to tackle climate change;

–  That the final plan the Government adopted was so different from the proposals
it consulted on there should have been further consultation.

The coalition argued that Transport Minister Geoff Hoon arrived at his decision
on a potentially half-capacity third runway, which was different to the fully-operational
runway in the consultation.     7.4.2009     More …..



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
(sadly no longer available)
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 used to be (no longer available)  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.”

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100919110641/http://programmeforgovernment.hmg.gov.uk/files/2010/05/coalition-programme.pdf   No longer available


On 24th May 2010 Heathrow announced it would stop work on its planning application for a 3rd runway    https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=4107 No longer available




Heathrow third runway – timelime of events

Coalition policy rules out expansion in this parliament but the Treasury has indicated it is open to the idea in the long term. The issue splits the government and backbenches alike.

6.9.2012 (Guardian)


1930 A British aero engineer and aircraft builder pays the vicar of Harmondsworth £15,000 for a 150-acre plot to build a private airport – called the Great West Aerodrome – to the west of the capital.

1946 RAF hands the airport over to the Air Ministry after using it as a base during the second world war. “London airport” officially opens.

1955-1986 Airport expands to four terminals and is named Heathrow, after the ancient village of Heath Row that once stood on the site.

2000 Department for Transport air passenger forecasts predict a significant increase from 160 million passengers per annum in 1998 to more than 400 million by 2020. The majority of these new passengers are projected to pass through airports in the south-east of England, prompting debate about increasing capacity to meet future demand.

June 2001 Labour ministers are reported to be seriously consideringbuilding a third runway at Heathrow to relieve increasing congestion in London and the south-east. Industry chiefs argue the British economy will lose billions of pounds if Heathrow loses traffic to European rivals and businesses shun the UK to be nearer better international links. Rod Eddington, British Airways’ chief executive, backs the plans.

December 2003 The transport secretary, Alistair Darling, publishes white paper plans for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow, to be completed within 12 years, but says there may be challenges over noise and air pollution.

December 2006 In an update to the white paper, the government reaffirms its support for a third runway. Environmental campaigners warn that growth in aviation will offset any reduction in carbon emissionsacross the rest of the UK.

August 2007 Protesters set up the Camp for Climate Action near Sipson, on the northern edge of Heathrow. There are clashes between police and protesters.

November 2007 The government publishes a public consultation document weighted firmly in favour of expanding Heathrow to accommodate a new runway and 220,000 extra flights a year. The London mayor, Ken Livingstone, says the proposals undermine the battle against climate change and urges the government to reduce demand for air travel by investing in rail infrastructure.

February 2008 Protesters stage an anti-expansion demonstration on the roof of the Houses of Parliament.

March 2008 Terminal 5 opens, designed to handle 35 million passengers a year. It descends into chaos on its opening day after the baggage system collapses.

June 2008 Conservative opposition leader David Cameron criticises the Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, for “pig-headedly” pressing ahead with a third runway and indicates a Tory government would likely block expansion plans.

August 2008 The European Union warns that a third runway would “significantly” breach air pollution guidelines.

September 2008 At their party conference, the Conservatives pledge to scrap plans for a third runway and instead build a £20bn high-speed rail link.

November 2008 Divisions emerge within the Labour party over Heathrow expansion plans.

December 2008 The transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, announces a delay to the decision, prompting speculation over cabinet divisions on the environmental impact. Brown reiterates his support.

January 2009 The government approves a third runway, taking the number of flights handled by the airport from 480,000 to more than 700,000 a year. The announcement is condemned by opposition MPs, residents and green groups.

Boris Johnson, now Conservative mayor of London, denounces the decision.

Labour survives a House of Commons vote on Heathrow expansion but 28 Labour MPs revolt and join with the opposition.

February 2009 Johnson launches plans to build a new airport in the Thames estuary, dubbed “Boris Island”.

March 2009 Labour’s plans are dealt a massive blow after Labour is warned that airports operator BAA cannot lodge a planning application for the project before the next general election, meaning the Tories could scrap the scheme if they are elected.

April 2009 Councils, residents and environmental groups representing several million people launch a legal challenge against the government’s plans.

December 2009 The House of Commons transport committee endorses the government’s plans, “in view of the economic benefits to the UK”.

March 2010 A high court judge declines to quash the government’s planning proposal but agrees that climate change threats have not been taken seriously enough.

May 2010 Labour loses the general election and a coalition government is formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Their formal agreement promises to cancel Heathrow’s third runway and rules out new runways at Stansted and Gatwick.

Protesters and local groups celebrate as airports operator BAA formally drops plans for new runways at Heathrow and Stansted airports.

October 2011 The shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, rules out Labour support for a third runway. The new transport secretary, Justine Greening, says the government will not revisit the ban on a third runway, but refuses to reject outright Johnson’s proposals for a new aviation hub in south-east England.

January 2012 BAA announces record traffic figures for Heathrow with 69.4 million passengers passing through its terminals in 2011. It claims these numbers underline the need for expansion.

February 2012 A commission of influential London business leadersdenounces the coalition as “negligent” for ruling out a third runway, and calls on the government to reconsider all the options for greater airport capacity in the south-east.

March 2012 Senior sources say both Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, have been convinced of the need to re-examine long-term policy on Heathrow after being lobbied by overseas leaders and business figures.

June 2012 The government says it will not block BAA from submitting proposals for a third Heathrow runway in a forthcoming revamp of policy on aviation hubs.

Director general of the International Air Transport Association, Tony Tyler, says tough political decisions are needed on airport expansion to prevent the UK from falling behind continental competitors.

Airline chiefs slam the government for an “easy, populist decision” to scrap the third runway and demand that the coalition spell out its strategy for airport expansion.

July 2012 Amid signs that the chancellor is pressing Cameron to drop opposition to the third runway, key Osborne allies say the government should grant planning permission for both a third and fourth runway at Heathrow.

Greening publishes an aviation strategy document that includes proposals on emissions, noise levels, night flights and regional airports.

August 2012 Greening insists that cross-party consensus means a third runway at Heathrow will not be considered, and is “not a long-term solution”. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem deputy prime minister, says ministers will stick to the coalition agreement that rules out expansion.

Former environment minister Tim Yeo, who changed his position on Heathrow in March, launches a stinging attack on Cameron, urging the prime minister to decide if he is “a man or a mouse” over the expansion of Heathrow airport. Yeo says environmental objections to a third runway are disappearing and backing the third runway would give the government a “sense of mission”.

September 2012 Osborne declares his support for a new runway in the south-east of England, possibly at Heathrow, and is rumoured to be seeking to establish a commission that would to try to build cross-party support. The move comes under attack from his own party. Johnson describes the idea as a “disaster”, while Zac Goldsmith threatens to quit as MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston and trigger a byelection unless the party rules out a third runway.

Greening, a fierce opponent of a third runway and MP for Putney – which lies under the Heathrow flight path – is removed as transport secretary and a cabinet reshuffle sees Patrick McLoughlin take the post and inherit the row over airport expansion.

Cameron says that he will not renege on his manifesto pledge to oppose a third runway “in this parliament”, but sidesteps a Labour backbench call to rule out a third runway as long as he remained Conservative leader.

Independent Commission to be set up, to report back to coalition government in an interim report in 2013, and final report in summer 2015. This to be considered by the next government, after the 2015 election.


Timeline: seven years of arguments over Heathrow third runway

December 2003    The then transport secretary, Alistair Darling, backs a third runway at Heathrow in the aviation white paper but sets targets on noise and air pollution. “It’s
essential we plan ahead to meet the pressures we know we’ll face as a result of
a growing economy,” he says.

December 2006 In an update to the white paper, the government reiterates its support for a
third runway, despite the environmental agenda. Ministers again cite the economy
as a key factor.

August 2007 Protesters set up the Camp for Climate Action near Sipson, on the northern edge of Heathrow.

November 2007 The government launches a public consultation on a third runway including its effect on noise and nitrogen dioxide levels. Ruth Kelly, transport secretary,
says the case still stands. “If Heathrow is allowed to become uncompetitive, flights
and routes will simply move elsewhere.”

September 2008 The Conservatives pledge to scrap a third runway and replace it with a high-speed rail link.

January 2009 The government approves a third runway, to take the number of passengers handled by the airport from 480,000 to more than 700,000 a year. It also sets up a company to design a north-south high-speed rail route. The announcement is condemned by opposition MPs, residents and green groups. Guardian.   20.1.2010  

March 2010     Heathrow’s third runway ‘dead’ and runway decision ‘untenable’

6th March 2010    The ruling of Judge Carnwath at the High Court has set back plans for a 3rd runway at Heathrow for years, with campaigners calling the project “dead”. The alliance
of local councils and environmental groups has resulted in a resounding defeat
for the government. Strangely Andrew Adonis quickly put out a statement saying
he welcomed the ruling. If the Government wants to pursue its 3rd runway plans
it must now go back to square one.     Click here to view full story…

May 2010        Heathrow 3rd runway plans scrapped by new government 12th May 2010     Plans for a 3rd runway at Heathrow have been scrapped by the new government.
Local residents and campaigners are absolutely delighted. There were parties all
evening in Sipson, which was due to be demolished under the plans. Residents under
the flight path are delighted and people who stood to lose their homes are relieved.
But there is caution from campaigners because of previous “broken promises”, and
BAA put out a statement about “work with the new government to provide strong
trading connections”.     Click here to view full story…



The “saving on stacking” argument for the 3rd runway:

Proponents of a third runway often say it would save immense amount of carbon
dioxide, due to the number of flights that will be able to land directly and not
have to stack.   This is a fallacy.
A third  runway would generate over 120 times more CO2 than it saves through reduced stacking, each year.


Heathrow expansion:


The Labour Government  wanted to expand Heathrow:

  • More planes on the existing runways by abolishing runway alternation (the practice where planes landing over London switch runways at 3pm in order to give the residents in the boroughs closest to Heathrow a half day’s break from the noise). The number of flights using the airport would rise from 475,000 (last year) to at least 540,000 a year.
  • A 3rd runway and 6th terminal. Flight numbers would rise to over 700,000 a year. At least 700 homes would be destroyed, including the entire village of Sipson. At least 150,000 people would find themselves under the new flight path.
  • The consultation ended in February 2008. 70,000 people responded to the consultation.
  • The proposals generated unprecedented opposition. The proposals were criticised because of their impact on the environment and on people’s quality of life. But leading economic commentators also argue they are not required for economic reasons.

Friends of the Earth produced two briefings on Heathrow   (January 2009)

1.  A full FoE briefing on why the Government must say no to expanding Heathrow:

2.  A FoE  briefing on the history of BAA’s broken promises on Heathrow: http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/media_briefing/heathrow_broken_promises.pdf

10 good reasons to stop Heathrow expansion:

 1. Heathrow is already Europe’s largest airport [i]: adding a third runway will mean a 70 per cent[ii] increase in flight numbers and resulting rises in climate change pollution.
It’s crazy to be paving the way for such big increases in greenhouse gases when
we should be doing all we can to reduce emissions.
2. We’ll miss our climate change targets: the plan for Heathrow is one of 20 airport expansion plans across the country. Scientists have warned us that allowing these to go ahead will significantly undermine the UK’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and stop the worst effects of climate change.
3. It’s unnecessary: almost a quarter of flights from Heathrow are to destinations less than 500 km away and already well served by train[iii]. Substituting these flights for train services would reduce the need for extra capacity at Heathrow and have significant environmental benefits, as train travel does ten times less damage to the climate than flying[iv].
4. The current growth in air travel has damaging effects on the UK economy: 67 per cent[v] of passengers traveling on flights from UK airports are UK residents. This means
fewer people holidaying at home which is contributing to a £17 billion annual
tourist deficit in the UK[vi].
5. A third runway would cause 750 homes to be demolished: this means displacing thousands of people and removing an entire village – Sipson in the London Borough of Hillingdon.
.6. Building a third runway would mean more noise pollution across London and the
South East: an extra 900 flights day will go overhead[vii].
7. It would increase local levels of dangerous nitrous oxide (NOx) pollution: NOx is linked to increased instances of asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis and
Heathrow is already in danger of breaching EU limits on NOx levels.
8. British Airways is putting profit before the environment: along with others in the aviation industry, BA is denying the impact its industry is having on the climate and is pushing for a third runway at all cost.
9. The aviation industry is dictating government policy: New Labour operates a revolving door with companies like BA and has allowed the industry to shape policies which have massive implications for the environment.
10. Airport expansion is unpopular: 70 per cent of people in the UK are opposed to building bigger airports[viii].
[i] World Development Movement, UK Airports and their CO2 emissions, press release, October 11th 2007    
[ii] Gillion Merron MP, Answer to Parliamentary Question, May 10th 2007  
[iii] HACAN, Short-Haul Flights: Clogging up Heathrow’s Runways, 2006
[iv] DfT estimate that short haul air emits 0.15 kg/CO2 per passenger km. This
multiplied by 2.7 (the IPCC’s best estimate for the impact of radiative forcing)
equals 0.405. Dft estimates rail on average emits 0.04 kg/CO2 per passenger km,
approximately 10% of 0.405.
[v] Cairns et al, Predict and Decide: Aviation, Climate Change and UK Policy,
Oxford Environmental Change Institute, 2006 p5    
[vi] Press Association (January 3, 2006) UK tourism deficit hits £17bn, business.guardian.co.uk  
[vii] Gillion Merron MP, Answer to Parliamentary Question, May 10th 2007
[viii] IPSOS MORI October 2007
 from Greenpeace.                                                                                   http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/10-reasons-to-stop-heathrow-expansion


Greenpeace   “Top 10 facts about airport expansion