Four companies have been appointed to work with Heathrow to “deliver expansion” of the west London airport – approximately four months before a final government decision on a new runway is made.
Up to £5 million will be spent on preparatory work including construction advice, design and project management.
The move will ensure that the airport can proceed immediately with work on a third runway in the event that ministers approve the project in late June or July.
Gatwick also invited companies to bid for up to £200 million of design and planning work in preparation for a second runway last month, although final awards of the contracts will not be made until late August, after a decision on airport expansion has been reached.
Heathrow said that appointing contractors before the decision will ensure that the airport “is ready to begin the process of expansion as soon as government gives the green light”.
The government was due to make a final decision before Christmas but delayed the decision until the summer pending further investigation into the noise and air quality impact of more flights.
The Airports Commission recommended expansion of Heathrow rather than Gatwick last summer.
Heathrow announced yesterday that four companies – Arup, CH2M, Mace and Turner & Townsend – had been chosen to start preparatory work for an expansion of the airport.
With the client partners now on board Heathrow is ready to begin the process of expansion as soon as Government gives the green light, the airport said.
Procurement director, Ian Ballentine, said: “I’m delighted that our client partners are now on board and I look forward to working with them to give the UK a truly world-class, sustainable hub airport.
“This privately financed, £16 billion project will benefit the whole UK as we work to widen the supply-chain right across the nation.”
A spokesman told the Times that between £4 million and £5 million would be spent drawing up detailed design and technical plans, advising the airport on construction, information management and overall management of the project.
But John Stewart, chairman of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, said the contracts meant that the airport was “counting some very expensive chickens before they are hatched”.
He told the newspaper: “All that we have heard is that Gatwick is still a viable option as far as ministers are concerned and Heathrow has been given no guarantees to justify this action,” he said.
International development secretary, Justine Greening, said at the weekend that the Cabinet was preparing to reject Heathrow, adding: “It’s like trying to build an eight bedroom mansion on the site of a terraced house.”
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