Heathrow Airport has received backing from the UK Parliament to build a third runway in a controversial decision that has sparked division amid Conservative and Labour MPs.
The UK’s largest airport and the second busiest in the world, Heathrow Airport was given the green light with a majority of 296 votes in a Commons vote after receiving Cabinet approval earlier this month.
Despite the overall majority, dissent rose among Tory ranks when it was revealed the project’s loudest opponent, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, would miss the vote because he was abroad. Conservatives were under Prime Minister Theresa May’s orders to support the government by voting for the proposed expansion.
Labour MPs were given a free vote, although the party’s official position was against the construction of the third runway, while the SNP abstained.
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. Campaigners say it will also bring serious environmental damage and increase 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.
Reaction to the vote was divided. Greenpeace UK said it is ready to join a cross-party group of London councils, together with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, in a legal challenge against the expansion.
Chairman of the London Assembly Tony Arbour said: “The London Assembly unanimously opposes the expansion of Heathrow airport on the grounds of air pollution, noise and the health impact it will have on Londoners.
“Together with the Mayor, we shall seek to overturn this calamitous decision, which can only increase the environmental harm that the airport already creates.”
Friends of the Earth also said in a statement: “MPs who backed this climate-wrecking new runway will be harshly judged by history. The evidence on the accelerating climate crisis, which is already hitting the world’s most vulnerable people, is overwhelming – and expanding Heathrow will only intensify the misery.”
Engineering and design consultancy Ramboll welcomed the vote but said that the process highlights some issues with the way major infrastructure projects are dealt with in the UK.
Managing director Mathew Riley commented: “Whilst this is good news for the economy and our industry, the reality is that is has taken successive governments 20 years to make a decision, and we still have the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn saying he may reverse this decision if Labour forms the next government. This whole process serves to demonstrate why politics alone cannot be allowed to dictate the fundamental needs of critical infrastructure in the UK.
“The National Infrastructure Commission needs to be given more power to influence long-term plans, as the current approach provides little reassurance to investors, who we will rely on to finance these investments. Going forward, it is essential that the government now provide full and consistent backing for this important addition to UK infrastructure.”
But approval came from other players in the industry, who instead welcomed the vote and showed their support.
Business group CBI described it as ‘a truly historic decision that will open the doors to a new era in the UK’s global trading relationships’.
Virgin Atlantic also expressed its backing to the vote, with CEO Craig Kreeger saying: “We firmly believe that Heathrow is the right choice for expansion and applaud this landmark parliamentary vote. As the country’s only hub airport, Heathrow is uniquely placed to support continued growth in UK trade and tourism, sending a strong signal to the world that we’re open for business. An expanded Heathrow must provide desperately needed and long overdue airline competition to deliver more international destinations, lower fares and better connectivity to UK regions.”
Support also came from Arora Group, which submitted its own proposal to build the terminal facilities. Founder and chairman Surinder Arora said: “This stamp of approval from MPs for Heathrow expansion is a vital further step – but there now needs to be an independent process to determine who can best deliver each element of the expansion… Costs must be kept down for the expansion to work and Heathrow’s track record should be a cause for concern.”