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Heathrow expansion ploughs on despite judicial review

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Heathrow airport expansion bosses are proving resolute in pushing on with plans to build a third runway, taking all hurdles in their stride.

Five legal challenges to the expansion programme – from Heathrow Hub, environmentalists, London mayor Sadiq Khan and local councils – were simultaneously heard at the High Court at the end of March.

They were mounted after the House of Commons voted in favour of building the runway, approving transport secretary Chris Grayling’s National Policy Statement (NPS) by 415 votes to 119, in June last year.

Judges have yet to hand down their decision following the hearing. A ruling is expected by the end of May.

This may find that the NPS, setting out the government’s support for a third runway, be quashed or revised. If this happens, Grayling would be forced to draft a new NPS if he still wishes to push forward with the expansion programme, which would require another parliamentary vote for approval.

The ruling could also be appealed, possibly resulting in further uncertainty for those seeking to expand Heathrow.

“From a commercial certainty point of view it could be difficult for Heathrow,” Friends of the Earth legal head Will Rundle told New Civil Engineer.

But, Heathrow Airport Ltd has remained dogged in its pursuit of expansion.

Expansion programme director Phil Wilbraham says legal challenges have not impacted plans for the third runway to be operational by 2026.

He confirmed that Heathrow plans to begin construction in 2021 and procure construction partners for the runway as in late 2019.

“Initially we will be starting with demolition, site clearance and utility diversions.

“Then we will go into a major civil engineering project, which will be around [work] like earthworks,” he says.

Construction of the third runway would take place afterwards, Wilbraham revealed.

Heathrow has also revealed a shortlist of 18 offsite construction sites to help deliver its third runway. It includes sites managed by Balfour Beatty in the West Midlands, Severfield in Yorkshire and the Humber, John Graham Construction in Northern Ireland and Tata Steel in Wales.

In the meantime, backers of alternative expansion plans have ramped up their efforts in recent months.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told New Civil Engineer in March that he supported expanding “regional airports or Gatwick” before Heathrow.

Heathrow Hub has argued that extending one of the existing runways at Heathrow would be more cost effective than building a third runway.

Meanwhile, fellow rival the Arora Group has submitted its own plans to expand Heathrow. It claims it can increase capacity to 130M passengers per year for £14.4bn compared to the £31bn, Heathrow proposes to spend.

Arora will focus on adding new terminal capacity between Terminal 5 and the M25, avoiding the need to redevelop existing terminals. The third runway would still be installed by Heathrow under its plans.

Heathrow bosses are not completely opposed to this plan, but say they are best placed to take the idea forward.

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