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Planning Process

We are committed to listening to our community, acting fairly, and helping local people and businesses have their say, so our neighbours can share in the economic benefits that expansion is estimated to generate. As part of the planning process we have been holding comprehensive consultations to develop our proposals, the first of which took place at the beginning of 2018.

Heathrow Airport Expansion Consultation

The Airport Expansion Consultation ran from 18th June until 13th September 2019 and gave you the opportunity to provide feedback on Heathrow’s proposals for the future layout of the airport, including the new runway and other airport infrastructure such as terminals and road access.


Expansion will be authorised via a Development Consent Order (DCO), a special kind of planning consent which is required for nationally significant infrastructure projects (also known as NSIPs) like Heathrow. The DCO will contain most of the consents and powers that we need to build and operate the third runway such as powers for compulsory acquisition and temporary possession of land. The DCO will also include a range of other consents for Heathrow expansion such as some environmental consents and listed building consent.

The preparation of Heathrow’s DCO application is underway, and it is informed by feedback from public consultations and continuous engagement with neighbouring communities, local authorities, airlines, statutory bodies, the Heathrow Community Engagement Board (HCEB) and other interested stakeholders.

We expect to submit our DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate, the government agency responsible for operating the planning process for NSIPs, in 2020.

Heathrow Consultations

Heathrow has consulted on the expansion proposals in three stages.

Heathrow Consultation 1

The first consultation sought views on our emerging proposals in terms of what the expanded airport could look like, how it might operate, and how we might best mitigate against the potential impacts, including proposals for compensation and noise insulation. This consultation ran from 17 January 2018 – 28 March 2018.

This Consultation is now closed and we have archived this consultation. For more information on our Consultations visit https://www.heathrowconsultation.com/

Airspace and Future Operations Consultation (Jan 2019)

The Airspace and Future Operations consultation asked respondents to help shape the airport’s plans for its future airspace and runway operations – both for the existing two runways and as part of the proposed expansion. The eight- week Airspace and Future Operations consultation ran from 8 January 2019 until 4 March 2019 and sought feedback on several key topics:

– Airspace change for an expanded Heathrow: the local factors we should consider in different geographic areas when designing future flight paths.

– Airspace change to make better use of our existing two runways: the local factors we should consider in different geographic areas when designing new flight paths for some aircraft arrivals on our existing two runways.

– Future operations for an expanded Heathrow: how we will operate our three runways in the future – this includes managing noise; respite through runway and airspace alternation; directional preference and night flights.

This Consultation is now closed and we have archived this consultation. For more information on our Consultations visit https://afo.heathrowconsultation.com/

Airport Expansion Consultation (June 2019)

This Consultation sought seek views on the proposed scheme for expansion and how Heathrow proposes to manage and mitigate the effects of this growth on local communities. This consultation was statutory and Heathrow is required by Government to hold it to develop our preferred plan for expansion. This consultation ran from 18 June 2019 until 13 September 2019.

This Consultation is now closed and we have archived this consultation. For more information on our Consultations visit https://aec.heathrowconsultation.com

Next steps

We are finalising our proposals and expect to submit our DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) in 2020. As our plans develop, it is likely that there are areas which will require further consultation ahead of our Development Consent Order submission in 2020. Consultation and engagement are a key part of the DCO process to ensure that the application is sufficiently tested before it is submitted.

Development Consent Order (DCO) process

The Planning Act 2008 covers the consenting process for nationally significant infrastructure projects (often referred to as NSIPs). NSIPs are projects considered to be so large and important that permission to build them must, by law, be given at a national level by a Secretary of State. Decisions on these projects are mainly taken based on how they comply with National Policy Statements which, in the case of expansion at Heathrow, are the Airports National Policy Statement and the National Networks National Policy Statement.
The construction or alteration of an airport falls under the Planning Act 2008 regime where the development proposed would lead to an increase in passenger capacity that would be at least 10 million additional passengers per year. Our proposed expansion of Heathrow would exceed this threshold and so is classified as an NSIP. Our proposals to divert and alter junctions on the M25 and the M4 Spur are also classified as an NSIP in their own right, but for practical reasons we will combine these into one application for permission.

Because our expansion proposals are an NSIP, if they are approved the Secretary of State for Transport is required by the Planning Act 2008 to grant a specific type of permission, called a development consent order (often referred to as a DCO). A DCO combines consent to develop a project alongside a range of other consents that would normally have to be obtained separately, such as listed building consent and some environmental consents. A DCO can also contain powers for the compulsory acquisition and temporary possession of land.

To obtain a DCO, a six-stage process must be followed:

  1. pre-application;
  2. acceptance;
  3. pre-examination;
  4. examination;
  5. decision; and
  6. post decision.


The pre-application process is designed to make sure that an application for a DCO has been sufficiently tested through a consultation and engagement process before it is submitted.

Pre-application consultation is therefore a key part of the process. We have formally consulted with interested parties including landowners, local communities, local authorities and other statutory consultees such as Natural England, Historic England and the Environment Agency. The Airport Expansion Consultation was Heathrow’s process to comply with this statutory duty and built on the non-statutory public consultations carried out in January to March 2018 and January to March 2019. As well as these consultations, ongoing engagement has been and will continue to be undertaken by Heathrow with landowners, local communities, businesses and statutory bodies.

After we have undertaken pre-application consultation, we are required to compile a report explaining what consultation we have carried out to inform development of the project. The report must also explain how we have taken into account feedback received from our pre-application consultation and engagement and how that feedback has helped shape and develop the project. The Consultation Report is one of the documents that will be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate (the government agency responsible for operating the planning process for NSIPs) with our application for a DCO.


On receipt of our DCO application, the Planning Inspectorate will review it and decide on behalf of the Secretary of State whether the application meets the standard required for it to be accepted for examination.


Following acceptance of the application for examination, we must then formally notify certain persons and bodies, and also publicise acceptance of the application. At this stage, anyone interested in the application will be able to register with the Planning Inspectorate and provide a summary of their views in writing.

The Secretary of State will at the same time appoint an ‘Examining Authority’, which will be a panel of up to five examining inspectors, to examine the DCO application on his behalf.


The Examining Authority has up to six months to carry out the examination once it formally starts. During this period people who have registered to have their say are invited to provide more details on their views in writing.

The Examining Authority will ask written questions to both Heathrow and other parties who have submitted written comments on the DCO application. Open floor hearings, hearings around specific issues and compulsory acquisition hearings will also be held and the Examining Authority will carry out site visits.


Following completion of the examination the Examining Authority will have up to three months to prepare a report on our DCO application to the Secretary of State for Transport. This report will include a recommendation on whether our application for a DCO should be granted or refused.

The Secretary of State for Transport then has up to a further three months to make a decision on whether to grant or refuse the DCO and therefore whether to approve our expansion proposals.


Once a decision has been issued, there is a six week period in which any application to challenge it in the High Court on legal grounds must be submitted.  This process of legal challenge is known as Judicial Review.

For more information on the DCO application process, please visit the Planning Inspectorate’s website: https://infrastructure.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/


Construction on the main works (including the runway) will begin shortly after the DCO has been granted. It is possible that some early works will take place before then. Any early works will be subject to consultation, environmental assessment and necessary approvals as required.