Plans for the construction of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport have received backing from cabinet ministers in what has been described as an “historic moment” for the UK.
The cabinet gave the initiative the greenlight following approval from the government’s economic sub-committee, chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May. It will now be up to the House of Commons to vote on the matter by the end of the month.
Downing Street said on Tuesday that the decision “demonstrates our commitment to delivering the jobs and major infrastructure projects the country needs to thrive” and would help ensure that the UK remains “outward looking and one of the world’s best-connected nations” once Brexit takes place.
But despite May’s enthusiasm, several MPs, environmentalists and members of the public did not welcome the move.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the only minister who chose to speak against the expansion, is one of a number of MPs who disapprove of the initiative, having previously claimed he would “lie down in front of bulldozers” to stop the runway.
The government is also facing backlash from a group of local councils led by Conservative MP for Windsor and Maidenhead Simon Dudley, who recently said he was ready to mount a legal challenge.
He told Radio Berkshire: “Let’s be clear here, if it doesn’t satisfactorily address concerns, then if MPs vote in favour of adopting this National Policy Statement, that opens up a six week window to a legal challenge and there will be a legal challenge.”
Concerns also sparked among nearby residents, who fear the building of a new runway would increase noise pollution to unbearable levels. Within this framework, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that £2.6bn will be spent on compensation for residents and noise abatement measures.
The Aviation Environment Federation said that the government had “buried the truth” about a runway that could cause “unavoidable environmental damage”. British Airways’ parent company IAG also expressed concern that the project could be too expensive, resulting in price rises for air passengers. Grayling addressed these issues saying that the expansion will only happen if air quality commitments are met.
However, many believe the runway represents a valuable opportunity for the UK and Heathrow, capable of boosting the economy and improving the airport’s international prestige.
Slough Borough Council, whose residents live near Heathrow Airport, said it was “the right decision”, with leader James Swindlehurst claiming it would create helpful job opportunities for the town.
Many businesses also welcomed the initiative. The Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said: “It’s essential small firms are given the opportunity to play a part in the huge procurement exercise to build both the runway and associated works, and that promises for increased regional connectivity are delivered.”
The decision has also triggered a mixed reaction from other UK airports, with Doncaster Sheffield Airport Aviation Development director Chris Harcombe commenting: “We welcome the government setting out final proposals and backing for the expansion of London Heathrow. It is very important for UK competitiveness to have a thriving and expanded global aviation hub in Heathrow.
“However it must come with balance for the rest of the UK through a clear government strategy to unlock existing aviation capacity in the regions and in turn stimulate economic growth locally.”