Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Annex 2


The Heathrow Terminal Five Inquiry

  The Government continually points to the Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) public inquiry as the major incentive for the structural reform of the major infrastructure decision making process. The Government's proposals have sought to restrict the rights of the public to challenge the need and location of individual infrastructure projects at local planning inquiries. This is despite the fact that they have presented no detailed evidence that public objections form a dominant component of the MIPs inquiry process. The following note provides a brief analysis of the T5 inquiry highlighting the time taken by the various stages of the process and suggesting a number of key issues that resulted in unnecessary "delay".

T5 Case Chronology




February, BAA submit planning application. Preparations start for inquiry.


Government prepares for inquiry, finds suitable venue, appoints inspector, receives proofs of evidence etc.


Inquiry starts in May; BAA take one year to present their evidence.


BAA's case comes under scrutiny from objectors.


Scrutiny of BAA's case continues (see details below).


Inquiry ends in February (after 3 years and 10 months).


Inspector sends report to Ministers in December after 1 year and 10 months.


After 11 months Government announces decision—November


  As the Case Chronology above shows, the length of the inquiry cannot be blamed simply on objectors, nor be used to claim that the inquiry process took too long. The length of time taken before and after the end of the inquiry relates to the Government's own processes, for example Ministers considering the inspector's report for 11 months.

  Time by Promoters, Objectors and Neutral Witnesses at the Terminal Five Public Inquiry (per cent)i


Proposers and Supporters


BAA plc


British Airways


Highways Agency


Objectors (incl. local authorities and many other statutory bodies)


Neutral Witnesses (mainly DETR and Civil Aviation Authority)



  1.  The T5 public inquiry lasted for 525 days spread over 3 years and 10 months including breaks. It started in May 1995 and ended in February 1999. The inquiry did not last five years or eight years as some have claimed.

  2.  The entire process from initial application to final decision obviously took longer, but then the applicants knew that this would be the case, for this was one of Britain's largest construction projects that was being brought forward.

  3.  If there were "delays" at the T5 inquiry Ministers have yet to show that any were caused by objectors. By contrast there were some real reasons as to the duration of the inquiry. These include:

  (a)   Policy vacuum

  The Government failed to provide an air transport policy against which the inquiry inspector could assess BAA's planning application. In other words, all of the T5 arguments were heard in a policy vacuum and the inquiry was effectively making up aviation policy on the hoof.

  (b)   Lack of credible data

  BAA refused to present credible basic data for future passenger and flight numbers* (not even British Airways, BAA's main pro-T5 supporter thought them credible). This was crucial for if proponents and opponents could not agree over the basic data it would mean that every topic up for discussion would have to be argued over in more detail that would be otherwise necessary. This was in fact what happened.

  BAA refused to cooperate with the inspector's request that it reach agreement with objectors over future forecasts. Instead BAA stuck to its absurdly low projections for flight numbers which were exceeded in 2000. The inquiry therefore had to work with basic data which affected every aspect of the inquiry[8] and which no-one thought was credible.



  The entire first year of the T5 inquiry was taken up by BAA presenting its case. BAA only started to complain when its case came under close scrutiny, which is surely the purpose of public inquiries.

  (d)   Last minute changes to evidence

  Huge delay and turmoil was caused by the last minute removal of evidence. For instance, after months of preparation by all parties for the road access ("surface access") topic, the Highways Agency—seemingly at the behest of BAA—withdrew at the last minute proposals for a two lane loop road from the M4 to the T5 site. The inquiry was sent into turmoil and had to be adjourned as new evidence was submitted and absorbed.

  (e)   Inadequate planning application

  BAA's original planning application was not only misleading (see point b: Lack of credible data above) but was inadequate. For example, it was bereft of public transport proposals, therefore considerable inquiry time (10 months) was taken up discussing the "surface access" topic looking at traffic modelling and congestion issues. These delays stemmed from BAA's inability to produce a sensible public transport package that all the parties could have agreed was appropriate to the world's leading airport and a sound basis for the inquiry.

  (f)   Government considers inspector's report

  The T5 Inquiry Inspector's report landed on John Prescott's desk on 20 December 2000. Exactly 11 months later, Mr Prescott's successor on transport issues, Mr Byers, announces the Government's verdict.


  The T5 inquiry involved a series of exceptional circumstances which lead to its unprecedented duration. Public involvement was not the dominant source of "delay" in the process. In fact very substantial time savings could have been achieved by improving the performance of the Government's policy making processes and its consideration of the final report. The T5 inquiry provides no clear evidence at restricting the rights of local people to examine the location of a MIP will substantially reduce the duration of the process. Indeed the only certain outcome of this measure will be to reduce the scrutiny of proposals to the detriment of the public's interests.


  i. Hansard 5 May 1998 Column 324.

21 March 2002


8   In short BAA said there would be 453,000 flight a year at Heathrow by the year 2013. However this figure was reached in 2000 ie 13 years "early". In keeping with the common tactic of other airports seeking constant expansion, BAA deliberately tried to hide the true scale of the problem. In doing this they could continue to gain creeping growth without Ministers having to take a long hard look at the industry and conclude that it is out of control.
(c) BAA took up inquiry time 

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