The scale of the disruption from Heathrow airport’s expansion project has been revealed with the publication of detailed plans to lower the M25 for the third runway to cross, reroute rivers, replace utilities and build car parks for nearly 50,000 cars.
A 12-week public consultation opened on Tuesday at 8am, with campaigners warning of the severe impact for years to come of more than 700 extra planes in the sky after 2026, when the runway is due to open.
Heathrow said expansion should “not come at any cost” and has outlined plans for low-emission zones and congestion charges to stem local air pollution. It plans to expand in phases up to 2050 with new terminal buildings added after the runway as passenger numbers reach 140 million a year, which it says will help keep airport charges and fares down after airlines complained about the cost.
The M25, Britain’s busiest motorway, will be moved up to 150 metres west and run through a tunnel under the new runway and taxiways. A temporary bridge across the motorway will be built for construction vehicles.
Local people will be offered property compensation, noise insulation funding and a 6.5-hour ban on scheduled night flights.
But campaigners said swathes of green belt land would be taken for buildings to support the runway, including two huge new car parks north and south of the airport. Heathrow said it was consolidating existing parking space.
Robert Barnstone, of Stop Heathrow Expansion, said: “Not only does it want to disrupt people’s lives for up to 30 years while building this new runway but now proposes jumbo-size car parks while pledging to reduce the number of people using cars at the airport.”
John Stewart, the chair of Hacan, the campaign group that opposes a third runway, said: “What hits you is the scale of these proposals. The impact on local people could be severe for many years to come. Disruption from construction; the demolition of homes; the reality of more than 700 extra planes a day.”
Emma Gilthorpe, the executive director for expansion at Heathrow, urged local people to participate in the consultation and make their views heard.
She said: “Expansion must not come at any cost. That is why we have been working with partners at the airport, in local communities and in government to ensure our plans show how we can grow sustainably and responsibly – with environmental considerations at the heart of expansion.”
Although residents of Harmondsworth have known since 2015 that most homes would be destroyed by the third runway, the plans now show that the A4 dual carriageway will also be rerouted through the remainder of the village – despite plans for a “country park” to highlight spared heritage buildings. It also signals further misery for the village of Sipson, overflown directly at the end of the new runway and now to host a 24,000-space multistorey car park.
Another huge car park will be built at Stanwell Moor, while the A3044 perimeter road serving the village and connecting Staines and West Drayton on opposite sides of the airport will be moved west of the M25.
Stewart warned the changes would create fresh “hidden victims of the runway”, with major disruption to local journeys that “people build their lives around, cutting people off from facilities they now use”.
The land grab will far exceed the boundaries of the new airport during its development, with construction and earthwork sites set up. An estimated 20m cubic metres of earth will be moved – more than 1m lorry loads. Heathrow plans to construct new stretches of the M25 and a junction while keeping existing traffic flowing – an idea greeted with some scepticism.
A spokesman for Heathrow Hub, whose rival extended runway scheme was shortlisted by the government’s Airports Commission inquiry, said: “The idea Heathrow can get it across the M25 right next to the M4 junction without causing years of delays is fanciful.”
Greenpeace UK said the plans “would almost be funny if we weren’t facing a climate emergency”. John Sauven, the charity’s executive director, said: “Heathrow say they can double the number of flights without increasing road traffic, air pollution, carbon emissions or noise. And hapless transport minister Chris Grayling apparently believed them.”
Campaigners still hope to draw in Boris Johnson, the Tory leadership frontrunner, whose constituency is directly affected, and who has spoken out against the third runway in the past but who dodged the key parliamentary vote on the plans.
“Heathrow needs to be smaller, not bigger, because the environmental impacts are already too great,” said Simon Birkett, the founder and director of the campaign group Clean Air in London. [Johnson] should pledge to scrap airport expansion or keep his word for a change and lie in front of bulldozers.”
Caroline Russell, a London assembly member for the Green party, called the expansion “climate wrecking”. She said: “Theresa May’s [net zero carbon by 2050 target] sounds very hollow in light of these plans. How can we ever meet our Paris commitment if government puts the interests of big business ahead of the health and wellbeing of Londoners?”
She said 300,000 more people in the capital would likely be under concentrated flight paths.
Although Heathrow has put a £14bn figure on its expansion costs, others say the true figure will be nearer £30bn, and eventually passed on to airlines and passengers.
The consultation is a statutory requirement of the planning process, after parliament gave Britain’s major airport the go-ahead for a third runway last June. Heathrow will submit final plans for scrutiny by inspectors at a planning inquiry next year, with the transport secretary expected to give approval in 2021.