Heathrow ‘jumps gun’ and awards runway contracts

The airport announced that four companies had been appointed to “assist in expanding” the west London site – about four months before a final government decision on a new runway is made. Up to £5 million will be spent on preparatory work including construction advice, design and project management, it emerged.

The Times reports that the move will ensure that the airport can proceed immediately with work on a £17.6 billion third runway in the event that ministers approve the project in late June or July.

Last summer the government-appointed airports commission overwhelmingly recommended expansion of Heathrow rather than Gatwick. The commission said that another Heathrow runway would deliver far more economic benefits to the nation and access to sought-after long-haul routes.

Opponents of the plan, including Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and Zac Goldsmith, his prospective successor, insist that a third runway at Heathrow would expose one million people in the capital to excessive noise.

Yesterday, John Stewart, chairman of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, said the contracts meant that the airport was “counting some very expensive chickens before they are hatched”. “All that we have heard is that Gatwick is still a viable option as far as ministers are concerned and Heathrow has been given no guarantees to justify this action,” he said.

Heathrow announced yesterday that four companies – Arup, CH2M, Mace and Turner & Townsend – had been chosen to start preparatory work for an expansion of the airport.

A spokesman said that between £4 million and £5 million would be spent drawing up detailed design and technical plans, advising the airport on construction, information management and overall management of the project.

Last month, Gatwick also invited companies to bid for up to £200 million of design and planning work in preparation for a second runway, although final awards of the contracts will not be made until late August, after a decision on airport expansion has been reached.

Heathrow said that appointing contractors before the decision will ensure that the airport “is ready to begin the process of expansion as soon as government gives the green light”.

Ministers were due to make a final decision before Christmas but delayed the decision until the summer pending further investigation into the noise and air quality impact of more flights.

At the weekend, Justine Greening, the international development secretary, said that the Cabinet was preparing to reject Heathrow, adding: “It’s like trying to build an eight bedroom mansion on the site of a terraced house.”