Opponents claim legal challenges will make decision an electoral liability for Theresa May
Anti-airport expansion campaigners outside Westminster today
The third runway at Heathrow has been given the go ahead by a cabinet committee. It is to be the first full length runway built in the south-east since the second world war.
In making the announcement the government are claiming that the new runway at Heathrow will bring economic benefits worth up to £61 billion. They say as many as 77,000 additional local jobs will be created over the next 14 years and the airport has committed to create 5,000 new apprenticeships over the same period.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, "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. This isn’t just a great deal for business, it’s a great deal for passengers who will also benefit from access to more airlines, destinations and flights.
"This is an important issue for the whole country. That is why the government’s preferred scheme will be subject to full and fair public consultation. Of course it is also hugely important for those living near the airport. That is why we have made clear that expansion will only be allowed to proceed on the basis of a world class package of compensation and mitigation worth up to £2.6 billion, including community support, insulation, and respite from noise – balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion."
The government will propose that a six-and-a-half hour ban on scheduled night flights will be introduced for the first time at Heathrow and they say this will make more stringent night noise restrictions a requirement of expansion. The timing of this ban will be determined through consultation.
Furthermore, the government proposes new legally binding noise targets, encouraging the use of quieter planes, and a more predictable timetable of respite for those living under the final flight path. The airport has also pledged to provide over £700 million for noise insulation for residential properties.
A Heathrow spokesperson said, “We welcome the news that Heathrow is Government’s preferred site for a new runway and look forward to hearing the full details later from the Transport Secretary.
“Expansion of Heathrow is the only option that will connect all of the UK to global growth, helping to build a stronger and fairer economy.
Plane landing at Heathrow. Picture: Ian Wylie
Opponents of the plan have already committed to a range of further actions to thwart the scheme including legal challenges and an escalating plan of direct action.
The decision was not made by a full cabinet but by a sub-committee chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May and MPs will not be voting on the matter for over a year. With the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Education Secretary, local Wandsworth MP Justine Greening, opposed to the expansion of Heathrow, the Prime Minister has departed from protocol by allowing cabinet ministers to voice their personal views. They are forbidden from criticising the process by which the decision is made. Boris Johnson has already said that he will not resign over the issue.
The chair of campaign group HACAN John Stewart said, “Countless residents will be dismayed and distraught by this decision. Some will lose their homes. Some face the daunting prospect of living under a noisy flight path for the first time. And many others will get yet more planes over their heads. But 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.”
Stewart added: “As expected, permission for a new runway has been made dependent on certain legal conditions being met. HACAN will fight for the implementation of these measures whether we get a third runway or Heathrow ultimately remains a two runway airport.”
The leader of Wandsworth Council, Ravi Govindia, said that the Government’s decision to back Heathrow expansion is “wrong on every level, legally undeliverable and will end in failure after years of wasted of effort".
“This is deeply distressing news for the communities around this airport but this fight is far from over. Ultimately it will be for the courts to decide if this project goes ahead and the law is on our side.
“The airport boasts illegal levels of air pollution, woefully inadequate transport capacity and has Europe’s worst noise footprint, and that’s with just two runways. Expansion will make all of these severely damaging issues worse. It’s wrong on every level, legally undeliverable and will end in failure after years of wasted of effort."
Local anti-airport expansion group CHATR said they were dismayed by Theresa May’s decision especially given her previous and well-publicised opposition.
In a statement they commented, "May, and the majority of her Cabinet, have ignored all the evidence which has undermined the recommendations of the Airports Commission, and is pressing ahead with what many believe is an undeliverable project.
"Four Councils in the worst affected areas have already joined in a legal action against the Government, and they have been joined by Greenpeace. This is in addition to the action brought already by Client Earth.
"We anticipate these law suits will tangle up the Government in the courts until at least the next General Election, and probably the one after that. Thus the decision to expand Heathrow will become an electoral liability for the Conservatives."
It is not known at this stage what the position of Education Secretary Justine Greening will be. She has been a long-term opponent of the expansion of Heathrow and has previously avoided answering questions on whether she would resign from the cabinet if the decision was made in favour of a third runway. Zac Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond Park is widely expected to resign and force a by election. The Evening Standard have reported that he will have the support of the local branch of the Conservative Party in his bid to retain his seat.
The National Policy Statement (NPS) on Aviation will be now put to parliament in winter 2017/18. Assuming the NPS is approved by parliament Heathrow will then be required to draw up an Environmental Impact Assessment to form part of its detailed proposals for a new runway which will need to go to a Planning Inquiry. The completion of this process on schedule would mean that construction on the runway would start in 2020 or 2021.
This morning (25th October), 40 Activists including members of Plane Stupid and Reclaim the Power locked together using ‘arm tubes’ on a mock runway outside Parliament to signal their intent to continue fighting airport expansion. Air traffic controllers with “STOP” paddles lined the runway. Other campaigners and local residents held a banner reading “Climate Change Kills, No New Runways.”
Shona Kealey spokesperson for Plane Stupid, said, "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. Obedience to this government is suicide. If they think we’re going to quietly follow them over the cliff, they’re dreaming."
A new direct action network Rising Up is expected to announce escalating direct action against airport expansion following the government announcement.
October 25, 2016