AIRPORT OPERATOR BAA was expecting the government to give the green light to the £2bn Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) project as GE went to press.
But construction is likely to be delayed by a judicial review or legal challenges. BAA is expecting strong objections to planning permission even after a four-year planning inquiry which ended in March 1999.
It expects strict planning controls to be imposed, which could force a rethink on parts of the scheme.
If the scheme goes ahead it will be the UK's second biggest construction scheme after the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. BAA is also proposing to extend the Piccadilly Underground line and the Heathrow Express (HEX) high speed rail link to T5 as well as building a spur road link to the M25.
When the planning restrictions are known, BAA has to finalise detail designs and apply for detailed planning permission before work can start on site.
Detailed design on some elements of the project could take up to two years, while key equipment such as tunnel boring machines, needed for the 14km of tunnel extensions for the HEX and Piccadilly tunnels, also need to be ordered years in advance.
To shorten the timeframe BAA fixed key design parameters on the scheme nine months ago. These 'key fixes' included the footprint of the terminal, its roof and floor grids and the vertical and horizontal alignments of the rail tunnels into the huge station box below the terminal.
Details of the 150m by 80m crossover cavern immediately outside the station box also had to be fixed. These included its relationship with the tracked transit system which will take passengers out to the two planned satellites.
A dedicated dual carriageway spur road to the M25 plus airport link roads are in the planning application, along with a new air traffic control tower and 1Mm 2of aircraft pavement.
The Highways Agency has said the widening of the M25 will become an urgent priority if and when the government gives planning permission for T5. Work would involve widening the most congested stretch from Junctions 12 to 15 (between the M3 and M4 interchanges) from four to six lanes. The Agency confirmed that this work would take place alongside works to link the new terminal to the London orbital.
Other transport links may include over ground rail connections to the terminal from main line routes to Reading and the west and Woking and the south west.
The project will take up to six years to build and the earliest opening date is now 2008.