UK Government unveils proposals to increase Heathrow's capacity and invites public reaction
Ruth Kelly, UK Transport Secretary
Thu 22 Nov 2007 – The UK’s Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has announced the well-trailed and highly controversial proposal to expand the present capacity of London’s Heathrow Airport. As part of a consultation process, she urged local people and interested bodies to respond with their views by the end of February 2008.
Options under consideration include the building of a third 2,200m runway to the north of the airport, mixed take-off and landing use of the present two runways, and the building of a sixth terminal. This would allow the airport to handle around 700,000 flights a year by 2030, a significant increase on the present 480,000. Without a further runway and terminal, the mixed runway use would allow for an extra 60,000 flights a year.
The announcement follows an analysis of runway capacity needs that started with a government White Paper published in 2003, which identified a need for more runway capacity in the south-east of England and supported further development of Heathrow.
The government will run into heavy opposition on any form of Heathrow expansion from residents, pressure groups and local councils. However, it believes the benefits outweigh local concerns. “Heathrow supports 170,000 jobs, billions of pounds of British exports and is our main gateway to the global economy. But for too long it has operated at nearly full capacity, with relatively minor problems causing severe delays to passengers,” said Kelly.
“If nothing changes, Heathrow’s status as a world-class airport will be gradually-eroded – jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer. London and the UK’s nations and regions alike are reliant on the good international connections that the Heathrow hub provides.”
To meet concerns, Kelly promises that “any decision on expansion has to be compatible with meeting tough local environmental tests on noise and air quality.” These conditions include:
• There should be no net increase in the total area (127sq.km) of the 57dBA noise contour;
• That the government is confident that levels of all relevant pollutants would be contained within EU limits, which will apply from 2010, and compliance with the mandatory air quality limits for NOx; and
• There must be improvements to public transport access to the airport.
The mixed-mode use of the two east-west runways would allow take-offs and landings on both. At present, the two existing runways are used in a segregated mode whereby one runway is used for take-offs at any one time and the other is used for landings. This is done on a rotational basis, mainly to provide local residents with some noise respite.
The building of the sixth terminal and the new runway would be planned to take place by 2020 and involve the removal of the village of Sipson.
Following the consultation, final decisions on the policy to be adopted are expected to be taken in the middle of next year at the earliest.
The government will now be under pressure to explain how it aims to square its support for the proposed expansion with its recently announced tough targets for cutting carbon emissions.