AIRPORT OPERATOR BAA plans to pre-empt the outcome of the UK's longest running public inquiry by taking key design decisions for Heathrow Terminal 5 at the end of this month.
The inquiry - now in its fourth year - is not expected to finish until December. A decision by the Secretary of State on whether to give go ahead for the £1.8bn scheme is not likely to follow until the middle of 2000.
But BAA project director Norman Haste said this week that the company would aim to 'hit the ground running' and will start design work in earnest this month.
'Key decisions like baggage handling will be made at the end of August so that by the end of September we will have a co-ordinated position as far as concept design,' he said.
The announcement coincided with the Government's decision to widen the M25 to 10 lanes between junctions 12 and 15 near Heathrow, fuelling speculation that BAA has already been told by ministers that the terminal will be approved. Proposals submitted by the Highways Agency in the last few weeks
for the construction topic of the inquiry include building a spur road for Terminal 5 at the same time as widening the M25.
Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Paul de Zylva described the M25 decision as 'the last piece of concrete evidence' needed to show the Government's bias towards T5, adding that: 'Everything points to BAA and ministers being very cosy over this.'
But a BAA spokeswoman denied that the company had lobbied the Government for the M25 widening. 'Terminal 5 would only add an extra 3% to traffic flows at peak times. It's a very congested section of the motorway anyway which would need alleviation even if T5 does not go ahead,' she said.
Six teams, including concept designer Richard Rogers Partnership, consultants Ove Arup, Mott MacDonald and TPS, and main civils contractors Laing and Amec will work on a single computer-aided design on a cost plus profit basis.