View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter – data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Analysis
August 5, 2019updated 30 Jan 2020 8:23am

The Heathrow Airport expansion timeline: how far have we come?

While new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is evidently against the third Heathrow runway, the issue has split the government and backbenches alike since it was first proposed. We look at the timeline of how the events surrounding the airport expansion have evolved over the years.

By Varsha Saraogi

The Heathrow Airport expansion plan has been through many twists and turns. Sixteen years have passed since Alistair Darling, the then Labour transport secretary, produced a white paper proposing a third runway. Since then, the project has been the subject of endless argument

Here are the key dates since the expansion plan began.

2003 – 2007: Labour’s early Heathrow expansion plan faces backlash from environmentalists

The Labour Government published plans for a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport to enhance the economic growth in the UK in December 2003. The Alistair Darling document envisioned that the project will prove to be a big boost to the economy and could be operational by 2015 to 2020.

However, in 2007, the plan saw climate activists protest against it by setting up camp in Heathrow which gave rise to clashes between them and the police. Local and environmental groups argued that expanding Heathrow and building a third runway would mean unacceptable levels of noise and pollution, as well as adding to the UK’s carbon emissions from the increased number of flights.

2008 – 2010: Indecision sparks further debate in the government

The Heathrow expansion plan had its backers but those against it were indeed far more in number. In a letter reported by The Guardian, the EU warned against it as it would breach the air pollution guidelines. However, the then prime minister in 2009 Gordon Brown was in favour of the project.

Under the leadership of David Cameron, the opposition Conservative party went against it. He even criticised Brown by saying it was a “ridiculous way to plan for the future.” In 2010, the coalition government formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats scrapped the plan for the third runway.

2012 – 2015: Industry figures back third runway

In 2012, BAA, the company which operates Heathrow Airport submitted record figures which said over 69 million passengers were passing through the terminal at that point creating a huge need for expansion. To add on, the government body Airports Commission published a report in 2015 and recommended that a third runway would be beneficial if coupled with measures such as a ban on night flights and a cap on noise levels.

2016 – 2018: Expansion plan gets seal of approval from the government despite ongoing kerfuffle

Despite being against the plan before coming into power, David Cameron’s successor Theresa May supported the project and after much debate the House of Commons voted in favour of the expansion in 2018 with a majority of 296 MPs.

In June last year transport secretary Chris Grayling designated it a national policy statement which means the next stage would be developing and planning the scheme. London Mayor Sadiq Khan went up against the decision. He said the government overlooked the damage it would do to the air and noise pollution levels along with the threat of demolishing thousands of homes in the area. He said: “I will do what I can to stop these plans.”

In the aftermath of the approval, Khan announced he would challenge the decision in court alongside the Windsor and Maidenhead, Wandsworth, Richmond and Hillingdon councils.

2018 – 2019: Expansion continues as scheduled even after court case

After witnessing protests outside the Royal Court of Justice by a coalition of local authorities, the case was presented to the High Court in 2018.

However, the plan got a green signal after the campaigners lost the challenge in court. Under the £14bn proposed plan, construction could begin in 2021, with a functioning third runway by 2026.

Despite the ruling, Extinction Rebellion activists threatened to shut down the Heathrow airport if the extension wasn’t cancelled. They vowed to stage a one-day demonstration in June and a ten-day demo in July 2019 where drones would be used by the group members. Given that flying drones near airports was illegal, the police warned the group against the protest and said those involved could face a life sentence. This resulted in the cancellation of the action by the activists.

June 2019: Heathrow extension masterplan published

The masterplan was finally published in June 2019 stating that Heathrow Airport will construct a third runway by 2026 and complete its expansion by 2050. The plan includes diverting rivers, moving roads and redirecting the M25 through a tunnel under the new runway. Heathrow says it is pursuing better public transport links and is planning a longer respite at night, providing local communities with six-and-a-half undisturbed hours without a flight.

Heathrow even launched an airport expansion consultation until September 13 where members of the public are able to give feedback about the proposal on its website.

July 2019: Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to oppose the airport extension

While former Prime Minister May backed the project, new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been an open and staunch opponent and even said he’d “lie down in front of the bulldozers” to prevent a third runway at Heathrow and continues to pledge against it.

At his very first Prime Ministers questions, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas asked the Prime Minister Johnson where he stood regarding the third runway and if he would scrap the plan given his opposition to the scheme. She said: “Few will forget his pledge to lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

“Luckily for him, luckily for us all, he is now at the steering wheel and can turn those bulldozers around.”

Johnson responded and said: “Of course, the bulldozers are some way off but I am following with lively interest the court cases.

“I will study the outcome of the court cases with a lively interest,” he said.

Related Companies

Topics in this article:
NEWSLETTER Sign up Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. The top stories of the day delivered to you every weekday. A weekly roundup of the latest news and analysis, sent every Monday. The airport industry's most comprehensive news and information delivered every month.
I consent to GlobalData UK Limited collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy


Thank you for subscribing to Airport Technology