UK government green-lights Heathrow expansion

UK government green-lights Heathrow expansion

The construction of a third runway at London Heathrow Airport is set to begin in earnest following approval for the project by the UK parliament.

The government won a key vote in the Commons by 415 votes to 119 - a majority of 296.

However, officials made a series of pledges to ensure the passing of the bill, including that there would be no cost to taxpayers.

There were also promises of an economic boost providing 100,000 jobs, built-in environmental protections and the ability to fine Heathrow or ground aircraft if the airport breaks its own promises over the scheme.

Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Parliament has ended 50 years of debate by deciding that Heathrow expansion will go ahead.

“This vote will see us deliver more jobs, create a lasting legacy of skills for future generations and guarantee expansion is delivered responsibly.

“We are grateful that MPs have made the right choice for Britain and today we start work to create the best connected hub airport in the world.”

The vote clears the way for Heathrow to submit an application for development consent for the project.

Over the coming days, the secretary of state for transport, Chris Grayling, is expected to designate the final Airports National Policy Statement approved by parliament.

This will set the policy framework for Heathrow’s northwest runway development consent application.

Heathrow is currently preparing to hold a second public consultation on its plans before submitting a development consent order application to the Planning Inspectorate, kick-starting an approval process expected to take 18 months.

Over the next 12 months, the airport is expected to sign £150 million worth of contracts with British businesses, creating 900 new jobs and 200 new apprenticeships.

Heathrow will also announce the locations of the off-site logistics hubs that will allow businesses across the country to get involved with what will be one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects

To protect the environment, development consent would only be granted on the basis that the new runway is delivered within existing air quality obligations.

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Officials predict the expansion of Heathrow will cost about £14 billion.

The project is likely to lead to hundreds of homes being demolished in the nearby villages of Longford, Harmondsworth and Sipson.

There have also been concerns over noise pollution in west London and the environmental cost of the project.

However, the department for transport has argued no expansion would mean the five airports which serve London reaching full capacity by 2034.

A new runway at Heathrow would increase capacity from 86 million passengers annually to 130 million.

Boris Johnson, long an opponent of the scheme, ducked the vote.

Having previously pledged to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” while London mayor, the foreign secretary is overseas on a diplomatic engagement.

To make sure expansion is delivered with consumers’ interests at heart, the government has asked the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure the scheme remains affordable while meeting the needs of passengers.

The government has also announced the creation of a new Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, which will be an independent expert voice on noise issues, acting as a link between airport operators, airlines and local communities.

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Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, however, took a dim view of the project.

He said: “Parliament has approved Heathrow’s expansion without any idea on how much it will cost and we have zero confidence in Heathrow’s management’s ability to deliver this project while keeping airport charges flat.

“It’s only a matter of time before we start hearing excuses for massive cost escalation on the exorbitant estimated cost of the project.

“These excuses will be followed by a change of leadership at Heathrow, who will then distance themselves from the promises and commitments that have been given.

“History must not be allowed to repeat itself, so we will look to the CAA, as regulator, to fulfil its role to protect consumers and stop Heathrow rewarding its shareholders to the detriment of the UK.”

IAG-owned British Airways is by far the largest airline at Heathrow, operating upward of 40 per cent of flights from the airport.

Virgin Atlantic is currently the second largest airline at Heathrow and operates four per cent of the total airport capacity.

Commenting on the vote, chief executive Craig Kreeger took a more positive view.

“We firmly believe that Heathrow is the right choice for expansion and applaud this landmark parliamentary vote,” he said.

“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.”

Following the vote, Manchester Airports Group called for the government to “maximise the potential of other airports” - not least because new capacity at Heathrow is more than a decade away.

In a statement the company, which operates Manchester and Stansted airports, said: “It is vital for the UK economy that the country has the best possible aviation connections and that means actively supporting airports that can deliver global connections now.

“Manchester and London Stansted have significant capacity for growth, and we are investing £1.5 billion in new facilities to enable them to drive the UK economy.

“With less than a year until Brexit, Government must do more to maximise the potential of all airports, to ensure the UK doesn’t lose out over the next decade.”