UK Government Approves Heathrow Expansion
The United Kingdom’s department for transport announced yesterday that it approved a plan to expand Heathrow Airport by adding a third runway.
The decision was applauded by most, but not all UK business interests. British Prime Minister Theresa May said the decision was made to boost jobs and growth and to ensure the country’s post-Brexit success. Polling in June 2016 showed that almost 70 percent of MPs polled support expansion. But there was also political fallout from the decision from divergent points on the spectrum from Conservatives to Liberal Democrats and Greens.
The decision culminates a multi-year process which originally also considered a proposal to expand Gatwick, the London area’s other international airport.
Heathrow naturally welcomed the decision to support its expansion and confirmed it will begin work to deliver the new runway. “Expanding Heathrow will keep Britain growing at the heart of the global economy, do more than any other infrastructure project to share economic growth all around the UK and deliver more competition and choice for passengers,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport.
The government’s decision followed the unanimous recommendation of the Airports Commission last summer after a two and a half year study. The commission confirmed that expanding Heathrow would have the biggest economic benefits for the UK and can be done while reducing noise for local communities and in accordance with EU air quality law.
When it opens in 2025, new airport hub capacity will allow up to 40 more long haul destinations, such as Wuhan, Osaka, and Quito, making Britain the best connected country in the world, according to Holland-Kaye.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which represents freight forwarders, has long backed Heathrow expansion.
“The Airport has the best connectivity to global markets of any in the UK, currently serving 185 destinations in 84 countries,” said Chris Welsh, FTA director of global and European policy. “Additional capacity is vital to meet growing demand for connectivity to emerging markets in Asia, the Indian subcontinent and South America. Access to these emerging markets will be even more important as we embark on a new future outside of the EU.”
“Businesses will now want assurances that the final approval process for Heathrow’s new runway will be smooth and swift, so that construction can begin as soon as possible,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. “Building this runway will not only boost business confidence, it will also help firms access export opportunities, and attract investment from both UK and overseas businesses.”
GMB, the UK’s general union, also has a long standing policy of support for Heathrow expansion. “ The airport needs expansion if it is to retain its world class status as a global hub airport,” said Mick Rix, GMB national officer for transportation and distribution. “In recent years work has slowly drifted to European competitor hub airports.” He added that Heathrow expansion protects 80,000 existing jobs and will increase jobs by another 114,000 jobs.
Gatwick had been in the running for expansion earlier on in the years-long process, but Crispin Blunt, a local MP, backed the Heathrow decision. “Gatwick being kept in the running leveraged a good package of mitigation measures and commitments from Heathrow, including a ban on night flights,” he said. “Gatwick had already failed in making its case to the Airports Commission due to its inferior economic case, lack of resilient surface transport infrastructure and lack of any available local labor force to staff the airport.”
Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of the British Air Transport Association (BATA), agreed that additional capacity at Heathrow offers greater potential economic and social advantages than expansion at Gatwick. “Our members are clear that the cost of expansion that they and their customers pay for is key and we will be scrutinizing this decision and future, more detailed, plans,” he added. “Heathrow is the most expensive hub airport in the world. Any new infrastructure must be cost effective.”
Heathrow Hub, an independent proposal to expand Heathrow by extending the northern runway and which was earlier shortlisted by the government, termed the decision, “Right location, wrong scheme.”
“Our proposal is cheaper, simpler, less disruptive and quicker to construct than Heathrow Airport’s third runway,” said a company statement.
And Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate condemned the decision as unlawful. “It would be unlawful to approve Heathrow expansion because Heathrow, with two runways, already breaches air quality legal limits,” he said “A third runway can only make things worse.”
Political actors who denounced the government’s decision also did so because of its adverse air quality implications.