The proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport has finally received approval from the government, following a series of frustrating delays.
Despite the government patting itself on the back for ending years of speculation – transport secretary Chris Grayling described the announcement as “truly momentous” and praised government for “taking decisive action” – the expansion project still faces a number of hurdles.
The final green light for the scheme is yet to be granted, as the proposal will now be subject to a vote by Parliament, which is not expected until late 2017 or early 2018. If Parliament approves the National Policy Statement (NPS), Heathrow would then be required to apply for planning permission with support of government policy.
There is also likely to be a barrage of opposition regarding various legal and regulatory issues, says Liz Jenkins, partner at law firm Clyde & Co.
“Heathrow will of course be very pleased with the decision that should allow it to significantly expand its capacity and eventually its profits. However, the contractors will have to put the champagne on ice as there is likely to be a number of legal hurdles to overcome before any shovels can break ground,” she says.
“Apart from the political opposition, there will be opposition from activist local residents, local authorities and environmentalists on a host of legal, planning and regulatory issues, such as noise and emissions,” adds Jenkins.
Following the announcement in favour of the new runway at Heathrow, campaign group Campaign for Better Transport labelled the government’s decision “scandalous”.
“We are extremely disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with a new runway at Heathrow, despite the mounting evidence that it will be hugely costly and massively environmentally damaging,” claims Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph.
“It’s scandalous that the government has completely ignored the environmental impact of a new runway, or the costs it will impose on people on lower incomes with the huge sums the Airports Commission proposes adding to the cost of plane tickets to allow a new runway to be built.”
Joseph adds: “We will be joining the many thousands of others who will be fighting this scheme in order to get a more sensible aviation policy.”
There’s also some significant political opposition to Heathrow expansion. In fact, much of the high-profile discontent has been voiced from within the Tory party itself, including opposition from foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith, who has resigned as a Conservative MP in protest at the government’s decision.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has also expressed protest and has said he will work with whoever lodges a legal challenge to get the decision overturned. “This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain,” says Khan. “I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months.”
However, Heathrow remains confident that it has enough support from MPs who are in favour of its proposal.
In a statement, Heathrow unsurprisingly welcomed government’s announcement, adding that independent sample polling of 150 MPs in June 2016 showed that almost 70% of those polled support expansion.
“The decision declares Britain ‘open for business’. 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 the statement.
“Expansion of Heathrow is also supported by business, trade unions and airlines as the best solution to Britain’s aviation capacity crunch.”
Support for the government’s announcement on Heathrow expansion has poured in from business leaders across the construction industry. Institution of Civil Engineers director general Nick Baveystock welcomed the decision, saying it provides a huge boost to UK PLC at a time of uncertainty. “This decision also reaffirms that the UK is open for international business and serious about retaining Heathrow’s status as a global hub airport,” he says.
However, what remains clear is that the government’s “decisive action” must go beyond today’s announcement – the final go-ahead for the project must be conclusive and without delay, unlike the long-drawn-out process regarding Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.
Ceca head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming agrees that swift action is now key: “Ceca offers its support to government in making the case for airport expansion at Heathrow, which is desperately needed, and we hope that the final decision which is of substantial national importance will be swift. Any further delay is unacceptable to the public and UK PLC.”
So, while the announcement has put an end to years of speculation over the UK’s aviation capacity, there are still a bevy of challenges on the horizon before construction work is officially given the green light. Let’s hope the industry won’t have to keep the champagne on ice for too long.