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LONDON-Britain’s longest-running planning battle came to an end yesterday when Transport Secretary Stephen Byers granted consent for airports operator BAA to build a fifth terminal at London Heathrow. On completion in 2007, the Richard Rogers-designed building will cater for 30 million passengers per annum, bringing Heathrow’s capacity up to 85 million.

The new terminal will be built at the western end of the existing airport. It will be served by a new spur off the M25 motorway, but BAA’s plans to widen the five-lane M25 even further in the area have been rejected. Terminal Five will also be served by the Heathrow Express and Piccadilly Line rail links to central London. But under the terms of the planning consent there will be restrictions on the number of flights at the new terminal, forcing BAA to make greater use of larger passenger jets, as well as on noise levels.

BAA chief executive Mike Hodgkinson welcomed the decision as ‘good news for the economy and the aviation industry.’ He said: ‘Terminal 5 remains vital to Heathrow’s future success as the country’s main international hub. The Secretary of State’s decision means that the UK will get the world class 21st century international gateway it needs and that the long term prospects for London’s business community and tourist industry have been significantly enhanced.’

But to arrive at this point BAA has set English legal history with the longest-ever planning battle. The planning application was submitted in February 1993, and a public inquiry began in May 1995. The inquiry sat for a record 525 days and inspector Roy Vandermeer finally sat down to write his report in March 1999. Even then, delay piled upon delay. Although Vandermeer made his recommendations to the government late in 2000, the decision was not announced until after the 2001 General Election, reputedly because the Government feared losing key seats in West London where the decision will prove most unpopular.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said lessons must be learned from the process. RICS assistant director Faraz Baber said: ‘There is a glaring need to agree major developments and infrastructure projects in principle, at the parliamentary level, prior to the planning application phase.’

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