Terminal 5 is Heathrow’s newest terminal, and was opened by the Queen in March 2008, 20 years after it was first conceived, and 15 years after the planning application was submitted in 1993. That planning application led to the longest planning inquiry in British history, with final planning permission only being granted in 2001.The inquiry resulted in hundreds of planning conditions being imposed on the project, among which was a requirement for archaeologists to excavate 100 hectares of the site before work could begin. The site became Britain’s largest ever archaeological excavation, and turned up some significant finds. As well as artefacts dating back to 3000 BC, archaeologists discovered stone-age fire-pits and ancient field boundaries. Some of the objects uncovered during the dig are on display at the Heathrow visitors centre.
The terminal is the UK’s largest freestanding building, with a cutting-edge glass and steel construction, utilising natural light to create a feeling of space and increase energy efficiency. The wave-shaped roof was put into place using the same advanced building techniques developed for the building of large bridges that were employed to raise Wembley Stadium’s arch and the London Eye. The building is designed to create free-flowing movements of people, with five levels linked by lift, avoiding the long walks around the terminal that characterise many airports (including the rest of Heathrow). Each of these levels is as large as 10 football pitches. As well as allowing light in, the glass construction allows passengers to see out, avoiding claustrophobia.
Terminal 5 has already begun to expand beyond its original capacity. The main terminal building is now known officially known as Terminal 5A. A satellite terminal, 5B has been built and a second, 5C, is scheduled to open in summer 2011. They are all connected by an underground railway.