Starting the New Year with a bang, Heathrow are set to kick-off a public consultation on plans for its expansion. Supporters and opponents will be watching carefully. The battle is now start in earnest.
On 17th January, Heathrow Airport Limited will, in its own words, take "a significant step towards delivery" of its expansion by launching a 10 week public consultation on its emerging proposals for a third, north-western, runway.
This is a significant step but there are many more to come if it is to obtain consent for the expansion in 2021 and complete the runway in 2025 as it hopes. But this consultation will motivate opponents and supporters alike to get involved and represents a significant opportunity to make themselves heard and, potentially, to get campaigns up-and-running.
Heathrow is promoting a Development Consent Order (DCO) to obtain all the powers and major consents it needs (including planning and compulsory purchase powers) for the third runway and this process is heavily frontloaded with the promoter under a legal duty to undertake at least one round of 'statutory' consultation prior to the submission of the DCO application for consent, which it very ambitiously (some would say unrealistically) intends to make in 2020.
This consultation is not a statutory consultation (that will take place later, likely to be 2019) but a non-statutory consultation seeking views on its emerging proposals. The consultation is nevertheless significant not least because the last time the airport consulted was in 2014.
In fairness, it has been busy in the interim period responding to the Government's consultations on the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) which sets out the Government's policy and need for new airport capacity and the impacts that should be assessed by the promoter of a project. The final NPS has yet to be published and adopted by the Government although it is anticipated that it will happen in May this year, after several delays.
Heathrow is calling this 'consultation one' which will provide information and seek views on infrastructure design options for the runway, terminals/aprons, M25 alignment (a bridge over or a tunnel under?) and junction etc. as well as its latest thinking on the more controversial topics including noise and air quality, surface access and property compensation. Consultation 'two' in 2019 will be the statutory consultation and will cover the proposed DCO application and the emerging environmental information.
In what appears to be an attempt to ward off some objections, Heathrow reiterated its commitments to the local communities. They have proposed measures including compensating eligible property owners for the unaffected market value of their property plus an additional 25% home loss payment and payment of stamp duty, legal fees and moving costs The airport has also already pledged to introduce a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights alongside a commitment to only release new capacity if strict air quality limits can be met. It is not clear whether this consultation will be seeking views on these commitments with a view to potential changes or further refinement but it remains the case they will have to work closely with local communities.
Now is also the time for local homeowners, landowners and businesses to protect their position by seeking professional advice to ensure that you are in the best position possible to deal with the impact of the proposals and enter into discussions with Heathrow. Early direct engagement with Heathrow is essential for those affected in addition to taking part in the consultation process.
And don't forget the politics either. Justine Greening MP, a vocal opponent, has recently returned to the backbenches, so for Heathrow this consultation is just the start.