Legal challenges to the expansion of Heathrow are likely to substantially delay the construction of a third runway, industry experts have warned.
Construction lawyers and planners have told Construction News the vote on Heathrow expansion could be a “false dawn”, with a number of lengthy legal challenges expected to delay the start of construction.
Last night MPs unanimously backed the third runway, with 415 MPs voting to support expansion and 119 voting against.
Clyde & Co partner Liz Jenkins said the vote would likely be a “false dawn” with a number of other hurdles to pass before spades go into the ground.
She said: “While the Commons have given Heathrow the green light for a new terminal, there are still plenty of legal hurdles to overcome.
“I think it is quite likely it will get bogged down in terms of environmental and planning processes which could take a substantial amount of time.”
Bircham Dyson Bell partner and infrastructure planning expert Angus Walker said the completion of the third runway was likely to be delayed by at least a year due to judicial reviews.
Mr Walker said: “Heathrow is saying that the third runway will open in 2025 or 2026, but I think that is pretty optimistic bearing in mind all of these legal challenges.”
A number of parties have already indicated that they are preparing to challenge the decision through the courts.
Five boroughs – Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Hammersmith and Fulham – have said they would take legal action to overturn the decision.
The challenge is also likely backed by the London mayor Sadiq Khan, who pledged his support last week.
Heathrow Hub, a rival proposal to the Heathrow expansion, has also said it will launch a separate judicial review against the proposal.
The National Policy Statement calling for the expansion of Heathrow has now been approved by the transport secretary Chris Grayling. This triggers a six-week period in which those that oppose a decision can lodge a judicial review.
Explaining the process, Mr Walker said legal challenges at this stage were likely to take several months: “There will likely be one or more judicial reviews in the High Court which could take up to six months.
“The losing party could then appeal to the Court of Appeal, and even if they lose at the Court of Appeal they could then appeal to the Supreme Court.”
This would be the first opportunity for Heathrow objectors to take the proposal for a third runway to the High Court.
There will also be a second opportunity to challenge the plans after the development consent order is completed.
Under the current plans, Heathrow intends to lodge its development consent order with the secretary of state in 2021, ahead of a 2025 completion date.
Infrastructure planning expert Gideon Amos said it was likely the development consent order could meet its 2021 deadline, but challenges in the High Court after this could delay construction.
“There is no reason why from a process point of view Heathrow will not be able to meet there DCO date, I think there is a high possibility that it could meet that time,” he said.
“But then there could be a High Court challenge, and I think if there is going to be a delay it will be coming from the courts at that stage.”
Mr Walker added: “You must remember as well, there is a general election in 2022.
“I suspect if a DCO is agreed by that point a new government would not overturn it, but with a different secretary of state you never know.”
Following the vote last night, a letter was sent to the prime minister Theresa May by the the consortium of five boroughs saying it would oppose the expansion plan.
It is understood the boroughs will meet with legal representatives later this week to decide on next steps, with a legal challenge likely.
Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead council leader Simon Dudley: “The decision from the House of Commons shows once again that the true facts about the true impact of a third runway at Heathrow are still being ignored.
“We will however continue to hold government to account and look at all options, including potential legal action, as we assess how we move forward with our partners from this frustrating outcome on behalf of residents.”
Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia said ahead of the vote yesterday: “If ministers press ahead now and formally designate the National Policy Statement supporting the third runway we will move quickly to bring this case before the courts. It cannot survive independent, lawful and rational scrutiny.”
Heathrow Hub, a rival proposal, also confirmed to CN that it would be planning a separate judicial review after the secretary of state signs off the vote.
A spokesman for the company said: “Last night’s vote doesn’t change anything; this a flawed scheme which is too expensive and complicated to implement, we await the views of CMA and will be pressing ahead with judicial review when MPS is designated by Chris Grayling.”