Finally, Heathrow runway expansion set for take-off

After almost half a century of debate, the UK government has approved a third runway at Heathrow airport – but the decision will not be finalised until a parliamentary vote in the winter of 2017-18.

London Heathrow confirmed for expansion
After a debate that began almost a half-century ago, the UK government finally decided on Tuesday to approve the £17 billion construction of a third runway at Heathrow in a bid to provide much-needed expansion of airport capacity in SE England.However, the decision – immediately welcomed by business groups and unions – will not be finalised until after a further year of public consultation and, ultimately, a parliamentary vote in the winter of 2017-18.

Legal challenges ahead

The hope is to have the new runway operational by 2025 although it will face legal challenges from environmentalists and local opposition groups, mainly on the grounds of noise and air pollution, as well as political opposition from some cabinet members, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Sadiq Khan, London's mayor who favours expansion at Gatwick Airport.There will also be a potentially embarrassing by-election for the government in the Richmond Park and Kingston North constituency, which is on the Heathrow flightpath, whose Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, has confirmed he will resign over the issue and stand in the by-election as an anti-Heathrow independent.

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But Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted the decision in favour of Heathrow was "about taking the right decision for the United Kingdom". He said, "The step that the government is taking today is truly momentous."I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the UK's place in the global aviation market – securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond."We've thought long and hard about this. We believe a third runway for Heathrow is the best option for our future. It's the best for the whole country to create better connectivity to the different regions of the United Kingdom and to provide the best trade links to the world."

"An enormous relief"

Paul Drechsler, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the government's decision would come "as an enormous relief to firms in every corner of the country". He added, “A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision. It will create the air links that will do so much to drive jobs and unlock growth across the UK, allowing even more of our innovative, ambitious and internationally focussed firms, from Bristol to Belfast, to take off and break into new markets.“With contracts to tender for, apprentices to recruit and supply chains to build, this decision must be taken forward swiftly, giving businesses the confidence to invest. Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible to reap the benefits for jobs and growth, precisely when the country needs them most. “This project should form part of a long-term framework for aviation capacity for the whole of the UK. Pressing ahead with key infrastructure projects like this will provide not only a welcome economic stimulus, but will show the world that we are well and truly open for business as we negotiate our exit from the EU.”

Jobs and apprenticeship schemes

Mick Rix, national officer of the GMB union, said Heathrow needed to be expanded if it was to retain its status as a global hub. "This not only protects the 80,000 jobs directly employed at the airport but will increase to a further 114,000 jobs that will be needed, and 10,000 local apprenticeship schemes," he said.Dan Lewis, senior adviser on infrastructure policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said businesses would welcome the fact the government has made a decision after "years of frustrating prevarication". He added, "The future success of the British economy will depend upon companies being able to continue and expand trade with the world, particularly beyond Europe. For that to happen there have to be enough flights to the destinations firms want. "Heathrow is already full and Gatwick will be full soon, so more capacity is vital. Only three per cent of IoD members think the current number of runways is sufficient for the long-term."We have to be realistic that it may take time for the expansion to get planning permission in the face of legal challenges, so the government must also look at interim solutions. Ministers should consider options including increasing capacity on the train line from London to Gatwick and lifting the annual cap on flights at Stansted, combined with a faster train service." 

Right for the country

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the manufacturers' organisation EEF, said, “Giving the green light to Heathrow expansion is the right one for industry and the country. Heathrow will be a key linchpin in enabling post-Brexit trade and this decision provides reassurance to manufacturers that access to direct, efficient and cost-effective trade routes to the rest of the world will be backed by action and not just words.“While the debate on extra airport capacity has understandably been finely focussed on a decision to allow expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick, the important role aviation plays more generally in supporting Britain’s global trade status has been side-lined. This crucial role should not be overlooked. "As local areas across the country gear up to take on more powers as part of devolution, improving surface access to regional airports should be an early priority to maximise the regional connectivity benefits from today’s decision.”Brian Strutton, general secretary of the pilots' union Balpa, said that, while the government's decision was welcome, "it's disappointing the definitive vote will not take place for at least another year – Heathrow is already operating at almost maximum capacity so expansion is vital to the UK economy and aviation industry".

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