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Heathrow: The vote

29th May, 2018

On Monday 25th June, MPs voted in favour of the Government’s proposal for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. In total, 534 MPs voted, with a result of 415 to 119 in favour. The NPS was formally designated the next day, triggering the start of a six-week period during which any applications for judicial reviews of the decision must be lodged. Heathrow can now start the process to apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO), the form of consent for major infrastructure projects in England and Wales. Subject to the third runway proposal surviving legal challenge, the DCO application will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in 2020. Heathrow will then need to convince the Planning Inspectorate that it has met the expectations of the NPS and will require sign off from the Secretary of State.

The Process

Parliament will soon be voting on whether or not to approve a third Heathrow runway. 

Proposals for expansion at Heathrow have been considered many times, but each time the financial and environmental costs have been found to outweigh any anticipated benefits. 

This is the first time that a runway proposal is being taken forward under the planning process for major infrastructure put in place by the 2008 Planning Act. If the ‘National Policy Statement’ is given a ‘yes’ vote in Parliament, it will pass to the Planning Inspectorate for delivery and will be largely out of the hands of both Parliament and the Government (present or future).

Why you should vote ‘no’

Heathrow has called for a third runway so many times that it might be tempting to think that we should just let them get on with it. But the environmental reasons to say ‘no’ are in fact as strong as ever. The Government hasn’t been able to show how expansion can be compatible with climate change legislation, has put Heathrow itself in charge of compliance with air quality legislation (despite the area being in breach of legal limits for over a decade even with two runways) and hasn’t published the location of future flight paths showing which communities would be exposed to the noise of the 700 additional planes per day that would come with a third runway.

In fact, the official sustainability appraisal for the Government’s third runway proposal concluded that even after taking account of possible mitigation measures, Heathrow expansion would have “significant negative” effects on: Community; Quality of Life; Noise; Biodiversity; Soil; Water; Air Quality; Carbon; Resources and Waste; Historic Environment; and Landscape (See DfT Appraisal of Sustainability: Airports National Policy Statement, June 2018, Table 7.3).

The economic benefit of the scheme, meanwhile, has been repeatedly called into question. A recent report from the New Economics Foundation found that the Government’s own formula for assessing the value for money of transport schemes suggests Heathrow expansion is either ‘poor’ or ‘low’ value, and government forecasts show that a third Heathrow runway would have a negative impact on growth at almost all non-London airports.

The stakes are high, not least for the hundreds of people set to lose their homes and communities if this project proceeds. 

Heathrow’s local impacts 

  • More planes will mean more cars and vans going to and from the airport. Heathrow claims there will be no increase in traffic as a result of a new runway, but all official modelling concludes that expansion will have a negative impact on air quality.
  • The NPS makes Heathrow responsible for delivering air quality improvements. There is no enforcement plan if air quality turns out not to improve as quickly as expected. Yet improvements anticipated 10 years ago, when a third runway was last on the table, have not yet materialised even without expansion.
  • A third runway would bring another 700 planes over West London every day. Even today, more people are affected by noise at Heathrow than at its five main European competitors combined. And hundreds of thousands will be newly exposed to aircraft noise.

Heathrow’s climate impacts

  • The only climate change conditions proposed by Government for a third runway relate to on-site emissions, ignoring the 97% from flights. There is currently no aviation climate change policy, and the Government doesn’t plan to draft one till after the Heathrow vote. 
  • The Government is considering strengthening the target in our Climate Change Act to bring it into line with global agreements. But with a third runway, aviation emissions will be higher than the maximum possible even under the existing target.
  • Both Heathrow and the Government say that Heathrow’s emissions can be ‘offset’ by paying other sectors in other countries to cut emissions. But with all nations signed up to challenging long term climate targets we can’t rely on a future supply of cheap offset credits.

Heathrow’s impact on other airports

  • Official forecasts show that Heathrow expansion would reduce growth at almost all other UK airports, including Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
  • The economic benefit of the scheme has been assumed rather than demonstrated. Heathrow expansion would rate as ‘poor’ or ‘low’ value under the Government’s own formula for assessing the value for money of transport schemes.
  • The updated cost benefit appraisal for the Heathrow NPS includes higher estimates of environmental costs compared with the previous figures published in October 2017. The Government has downgraded the net national benefit of expansion with the central estimate showing a Net Present Value of -£2.5billion to £2.9billion spread over 60 years.
  • Big questions about who will pay for the scheme, particularly the surface access improvements needed to make it compatible with air pollution law, remain unanswered.

Click here to find out the implications for your airport. 

Heathrow’s impacts on communities 

  • Building a new runway would require a massive programme of demolition in Longford, Harmondsworth, Sipson and Stanwell, including the loss of a primary school, community centres, special needs centre and a number of recreational spaces, and the likely loss of a number of ‘designated historical assets’
  • The Government’s sustainability appraisal anticipates that even after mitigation the overall impact of expansion on local communities and quality of life will be significantly negative. Local resident, Eilish Stone, said:

Having lived in Harmondsworth for over 40 years, my home would be demolished and I will be forced to move away from friends and community. I should be able to enjoy my retirement without fear for my future.

Eilish Stone
Harmondsworth Resident


Hillingdon Air Quality Progress Report 2017

London Air data on NO2 annual mean compliance for Hillingdon Keats Way

Airports Commission Noise Discussion Paper Table 2.2

DfT Appraisal of Sustainability: Airports National Policy Statement February 2017, 7.4.99

New Economics Foundation Flying low: The true cost of Heathrow expansion March 2018

DfT Appraisal of Sustainability Non-technical Summary: Airports National Policy Statement June 2018

DfT Appraisal of Sustainability: Airports National Policy Statement June 2018

Heathrow expansion compulsory purchase zone