So, after months of anticipation, the Government has finally decided to publicly approve of a third runway at Heathrow airport, announcing the decision last Tuesday. It comes following the recommendations of the Airports Commission, established in 2012 and reporting to the Department for Transport, which had the stated aim of “examining the need for additional UK airport capacity and… how this can be met in the short, medium and long term,” concluding a new north-eastern runway at Heathrow to offer the “greatest strategic and economic benefits” in this regard. Should MPs ultimately vote in favour of the proposal when it eventually reaches the floor of the House of Commons, this will be the first new full-length runway in the South East of England since the Second World War. Finally, there might be an end to decades of inaction when it comes to expanding UK airport capacity, despite endless publications and reports investigating it.
The announcement, to say the very least, has been controversial. It has been praised by stakeholders set to benefit as a result of the proposal, including big players in the aviation and airlines industry, business organisations like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and trade unions such as the Trade Unions Congress (TUC). It has equally been condemned by those set to lose as result of it including countless environmentalist organisations and MPs representing constituencies near Heathrow Airport or under the flight-path. We have even witnessed the resignation of the Zac Goldsmith in protest, with a by-election currently scheduled to take place in his Richmond and North Kingston constituency at the beginning of December.
As one would expect, nowhere has the announcement been more controversial than among those living in the local areas set to be most affected by the project – many of whom (although not all) are concerned about the impact it will have on their homes. Setting aside the political drama surrounding the announcement and indeed the objective advantages and disadvantages of a third runway at Heathrow in and of itself, this raises an important question which so far has been largely neglected: should the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow go ahead, what will be the implications for housing in the affected residential areas?
Firstly, there are those residential areas on and around the site where the runway is planned to be constructed. The runway is planned to be built upon parts of Harmondsworth and Longford. The Government has already made it clear that 750 homes in these areas will be subject to compulsory purchase, where residents will receive compensation valued at 125% of the full market value of their homes, alongside stamp duty, legal fees, and moving costs. The government has also made it clear that the residential areas which are expected to be most affected by increases in noise and air pollution, including Colnbrook, Poyle, Sipson and Harlington, and parts of Hayes, will receive compensatory measures (as such, they have collectively been dubbed the ‘compensation zone’) designed to mitigate the worst excesses and their impact on house value, including over £750 million worth of free insulation.
Then there are those those residential areas beyond the ‘compensation zone’ but which are still expected to be impacted by the third-runway and its associated externalities, including the rest of Hounslow and areas under the flight path, such as Richmond. The implications that a third runway would have on housing in these areas is harder to predict. They would largely be determined by the reaction of the housing market itself to the project once it gets underway; whether it stimulates demand for homes in such areas or whether the inevitable increases in noise and air pollution stymies it. There has been speculation among estate agents that a fall in house prices is the most likely consequence, although there is a lack of consensus when it comes to estimating how certain this will be and if so, the extent to which it will happen.
Should the proposal to build the third-runway actually go ahead, following a vote of approval in the House of Commons, the real implications it will have for housing in the locally surrounding areas will, of course, reveal themselves over time. The decision has certainly added a bit of excitement to an already somewhat manic political season. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, and monitor any new developments as they present themselves!