The UK Parliament is to vote on expansion plans for Heathrow Airport today, in a controversial decision that has already brought divisions in both Labour and Conservative ranks.
Heathrow Airport, which is the largest UK airport and the second busiest in the world, earned Cabinet approval earlier this month but triggered controversy among Parliament members and local residents over the environmental impacts a third runway would have.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling described the vote as ‘the biggest transport decision in a generation’ and has urged all MPs to support the plan.
Grayling also told the BBC that the new runway is ‘not simply a project for London and the south of England’, but will instead benefit the whole of the UK.
The proposed expansion is forecast to cost about £14bn and could lead to hundreds of homes being demolished in the nearby towns of Longford, Harmondsworth and Sipson, which campaigners fear will bring serious environmental damages, as well as increasing noise pollution.
A new runway would boost Heathrow’s capacity from 85.5 million passengers to 130 million, and the Department for Transport previously stated that no expansion would mean London’s five airports would reach full capacity by 2034. Officials expect the project to create 114,000 extra jobs in the area around the airport by 2030, with an extra 16 million long-haul seats by 2040.
All eyes will be on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, one of the loudest opponents to the runway, who once threatened to lie down in front of bulldozers if the plan is approved. Johnson, however, is set to miss today’s vote as he is abroad.
Former international trade minister Greg Hands, who recently resigned in opposition to the expansion, criticised Johnson’s absence by tweeting on Sunday: “Great to arrive back in the UK at Luton Airport in time for the match today and to vote against #Heathrow expansion tomorrow. I wouldn’t want to be abroad for either of those. #commitments.”
Grayling also expressed his views on the matter by telling Sky News: “The prime minister has been very clear that there are parliamentary colleagues who have longstanding views about this, perhaps for constituency reasons who need to take their own decisions about how they approach it.
“We all fought a general election on the manifesto of expanding Heathrow Airport. But equally, where there are people who have got particularly constituency issues, we’ve left them the freedom to carry on expressing the views they’ve always had.”
Disparities further rose among Labour ranks when over 40 MPs claimed they were ready to go against party policy to support the government’s plan for Heathrow’s expansion. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is officially opposed to the expansion, though has allowed MPs to have a free vote on the matter.