Heathrow expansion: the UK reacts to government’s approval for new runway

The UK Government has backed a third runway at Heathrow Airport, supporting the initial recommendation made by the Airports Commission in July 2015. The announcement has been labelled as “truly momentous”, but how is the country reacting to the news?


Airport expansion

It’s been a hot potato for as long as many people can remember, but the UK Government has finally outlined its position on airport expansion, by giving its approval for a new runway at Heathrow.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it represents the “best option”, allowing the country’s aviation and business sectors to flourish. “A new runway at Heathrow will improve connectivity in the UK itself and crucially boost our connections with the rest of the world, supporting exports, trade and job opportunities,” he added. Although he later confirmed in the House of Commons that Gatwick “remains a key part of our transport infrastructure”.

Meanwhile, Heathrow bosses called it the right way forward to “build a stronger and fairer economy”.

However, anyone hoping that this represents the final piece of the jigsaw will be disappointed, for there is still debate to be had.

Taking into account the magnitude of the project and the severe opposition it attracts, a public consultation will be held, before the government makes a final decision as part of what is known as an aviation national policy statement.

Perhaps crucially, MPs will then get the chance to vote in the winter of 2017-2018, but reports suggest a new runway will not be operational before 2025. Consider, too, the potential for legal challenges on noise and air pollution. 

And so, while the government has come down on the side of Heathrow, what is the reaction from across the spectrum?

Stewart Wingate, chief executive Gatwick Airport

“We are disappointed as we do not believe this is the right answer for Britain. Gatwick has put forward a credible financeable and deliverable plan for expansion.

“It is a plan that can guarantee growth and guarantee certainty for Britain. We look forward to studying the full reasons behind the government decision in detail.

“The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed.  Our message today is that Gatwick stands ready to proceed when the time comes.”

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

“This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain. The government are running roughshod over Londoners’ views.

“I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months.” He also added how, in his view, “a new runway at Heathrow will be devastating for air quality across London”.

Jonathan Bartley, Green Party Co-leader

“The decision to expand Heathrow tramples over the concerns of local people and puts a wrecking ball through the Government’s claim to be concerned about climate change.

“The truth is that the Government went into this process with their eyes shut to the only sensible option: stopping airport expansion. Instead they’ve pitched two mega airports against each other and is now ploughing ahead with this disastrous expansion at Heathrow.

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor

“I've campaigned against this runway for over 30 years and in that time Heathrow have never managed to win the argument for expansion, which still remains the case today.

“Nothing has changed. Building a third runway would be devastating for local residents who face losing their homes, schools, community centre and village life.”

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park, who intends to resign his seat in protest

“[This decision is] a millstone around this government's neck. [One million people] will directly suffer because of the environmental harm this project unavoidably produces.”

Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary

“No other great city would do this to its inhabitants. New York is going to be the city of beautiful skyscrapers, Paris the city of lights and London in the future, if we go ahead with this project, will be known as the city of planes.

“I think it very likely it will be stopped.”

Community activists cry foul 

John Stewart, chair of the Hacan campaign group

“Real doubts must remain whether this new runway will ever see the light of day. The hurdles it faces remain: costs, noise, air pollution and widespread opposition including an expected legal challenge from the local authorities.”

Ralph Smyth, Campaign to Protect Rural England

“The north-south divide has been increasing. By giving the go ahead to yet another runway in the south the Prime Minister has effectively pulled the rug on her own flagship policy of rebalancing our nation’s economy.”

Shona Kealey, spokesperson for activist group Plane Stupid

“Two weeks ago, enough countries agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement for it to come into force. Last week, the government’s climate advisers issued a report saying reducing aviation emissions should be a priority if we’re going to honour the Climate Change Act. And now, with today’s announcement, our government proclaims to the world that we’re a dishonest and unreliable nation who can’t be trusted to keep to our international agreements or even follow our own laws, just as we’re about to renegotiate trade agreements with the whole world.

Andrew Pendleton, Head of Campaigns for Friends of the Earth

“Expanding Heathrow would be a hugely damaging blow for local people, and makes a complete mockery of government commitments to tackle climate change."

Support from business groups and trade unions

Paul Drechsler, president of the CBI

“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.”

Mick Rix, national officer for transport and distribution, GMB

“Heathrow must now mean Heathrow. 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.”

Declan Collier, CEO of London City Airport

“Today’s announcement is good news for business, good news for tourism and good news for Britain; a new runway in the South East will create much needed capacity, helping secure the UK’s position as a global hub - never more important than in the current political climate.

“Approving development at London City Airport earlier this year showed the Government’s readiness to act in the best interests of the British economy as it will generate more economic activity and create more jobs at the airport.”

William Lowe, director of Heathrow Hub, the independent proposal to expand Heathrow by extending the northern runway

“Our economy, our national transport infrastructure and our international connectivity will be much improved by the expansion of Heathrow Airport rather than Gatwick. While we obviously believe that our own concept to extend the northern runway remains vastly superior to Heathrow Airport Ltd.’s third runway option, we congratulate John Holland-Kaye and his team.

“We are relieved that the government has made the correct decision in terms of location. Heathrow is where the airlines want to be; it’s where the demand is.”

Jason Brooks, UK head of aviation at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff

“This is a landmark moment for UK aviation that we are rightly celebrating. However, this should be seen as just the first step to increasing airport capacity in the South East. The strategic importance and growth potential of London Gatwick remains critical, we also need a new runway there too in due course, for the UK to be able to maintain its position as a leading global aviation player and economic powerhouse.”

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses

“Today’s decision on airport capacity is a welcome boost for British business, which could deliver up to £211bn of extra economic growth, 180,000 jobs and double the apprenticeships at Heathrow to a total of 10,000. We now need to see budgets committed and shovels in the ground as soon as possible."

Diogenis Papiomytis, Consulting Director, Aerospace & Defence, Frost & Sullivan

“Everyone will be affected, with most stakeholders affected positively. The overall passenger experience, for arriving, departing and transiting passengers, will improve substantially. The end objective is for the airport to effectively compete in terms of improving the ground experience, with global hub airports in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

“Of course, there are stakeholder groups that will be negatively affected, such as residents in the surrounding areas, and competitor London Airports.”