London Heathrow gets approval to expand as Gatwick loses out3 min read . Updated: 25 Oct 2016, 08:30 PM IST
Construction of a new, third landing strip at Heathrow will allow the airport to handle 135 million passengers a year, up from 75 million passengers now
London: Prime Minister Theresa May’s government gave the green light to a £16 billion ($20 billion) expansion of London’s crowded Heathrow airport, ending years of prevarication over what has become one of the most contentious issues in British politics.
The announcement Tuesday endorsed the conclusions of a state-sponsored commission that said last year Heathrow and not its rival Gatwick is the best candidate for growth amid a crunch in UK flight capacity. Construction of a new, third landing strip at Heathrow—the first full-length runway in south-east England since World War II—will allow the 70-year-old airport west of London to handle 135 million passengers a year, up from 75 million passengers now.
“The step that government is taking today is truly momentous," transport secretary Chris Grayling said in a statement. “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."
A public consultation will now be held next year before final government proposals are put to Parliament in the winter of 2017-2018. May said last week that any ministers with “strongly held views" against expanding Heathrow would be free to continue to express their opposition, in a break from normal practice, though not in Parliament. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who has been the most prominent of those critics, told reporters after the cabinet met that he’d continue to oppose expansion.
While Heathrow remains Europe’s busiest airport, indecision over its expansion has seen that lead diminish in recent years as competitors including Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle add flights on their multiple runways. Fast-growing hubs further east, including Dubai and Istanbul, are also grabbing a bigger share of the most lucrative long-haul transfer traffic.
The new runway will benefit the UK economy by as much as £61 billion and will create as many as 77,000 extra jobs over the next 14 years, the government said.
May’s predecessor, David Cameron, put off a decision on Heathrow in December when he said more studies were needed on the environmental impact of a hub surrounded by the urban sprawl of west London and with flight paths over the center of the city. His earlier move to appoint an Airports Commission led by former Financial Services Authority chairman Howard Davies to adjudicate on expansion had in turn avoided making the runway decision a potential vote loser in the 2015 general election.
While Davies shortlisted three proposals for adding capacity—including a second runway at Gatwick and an extension of one of the two existing runways at Heathrow—he concluded that the third-runway plan was superior. Carriers including British Airways also backed the model, arguing that expanding Gatwick would split flights between two similarly sized bases, making fewer routes viable than from a single super-hub with double the traffic.
Cameron had been hamstrung by a “no ifs, no buts" commitment not to expand Heathrow issued in the run-up to the 2010 election, as well as opposition to the plan among prominent figures in his own party, including lawmakers Zac Goldsmith, the conservative candidate in London’s last mayoral election, and Justine Greening, the education secretary, whose constituencies are under the flight-path.
“Following the government’s catastrophic Heathrow announcement, I will be meeting my constituents later today before making a statement," Goldsmith said on Twitter. He’s previously said he would resign as a member of the House of Commons and force a by-election if Heathrow was chosen.
Johnson was an outspoken critic of expanding Heathrow during his time as London mayor between 2008 and this year, proposing that Britain should instead build a completely new hub airport in the Thames estuary east of the capital. The model, dubbed “Boris Island," was rejected outright by Davies.
“Heathrow stands ready to work with government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK," the hub said in an e-mailed statement.
“A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision," Paul Drechsler, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, said in a statement. “Pressing ahead with key infrastructure projects like this will provide not only a welcome economic stimulus, but will show the world that we are well and truly open for business as we negotiate our exit from the EU." Bloomberg