Heathrow’s expansion plan has been officaily backed by government.
In “an historic moment” transport secretary Chris Grayling revealed revised expansion proposals as part of the final Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), triggering the run-up to a parliamentary vote on the third runway within the next 21 days.
However, the deal is far from sealed, as several high-profile MPs including foreign secretary Boris Johnson are reportedly against an expanded Heathrow. According to the Evening Standard, Johnson was the only MP to speak out against expansion at a Cabinet meeting earlier this morning.
Grayling told the Commons “the time for action is now”, adding London’s airports are straining at full capacity as he urged colleagues to “get behind” the NPS and Heathrow’s expansion.
He said: “I hope the House will be ready to work together – acting on an issue that is in our shared national interest – in order to create a positive legacy for the future. I hope members will get behind it.”
Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) chief executive John Holland-Kaye echoed his calls, telling MPs “the world is waiting for Britain”.
He said: “Together with our supporters across the country, we urge all MPs to vote for expansion. Their votes will connect all of Britain to global trade, increase competition and choice for passengers and create tens of thousands of new skilled jobs for future generations. The world is waiting for Britain. It’s time to vote for Heathrow expansion.”
But Grayling admitted serious concerns remain over how expansion will affect air quality, confirming the government will only grant development consent “if we are satisfied that a new runway would not impact the UK’s compliance with air quality obligations”.
Several London boroughs and Transport for London have said that they could mount a legal challenge against expansion due to environmental and surface access concerns.
Compensation for noise pollution worth £2.6bn will be made available for residents and a 6.5 hour ban on night flights will be put in place.
Grayling also silenced backers for alternative proposals such as Heathrow Hub by throwing his weight behind Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) to deliver expansion.
He said: “Some stakeholders have suggested that we should now look again at who delivers expansion. Whilst I will always retain an open mind, my current assessment is that caution is needed at this stage.
“Heathrow is an operational airport under a single management, and I am clear that they are currently the only credible promoter who could deliver this transformational scheme in its entirety.”
This morning rival expansion promoters Heathrow Hub said the government had “bungled things” in backing HAL.
Heathrow Hub director Jock Lowe said: “Our scheme is cheaper, simpler, quieter and quicker to construct. It must be included as an option. We fear that, yet again, the Department for Transport has bungled things and fallen for the sales patter of a commercial monopoly, Heathrow Airport Ltd.”
If expansion proposals pass the upcoming Commons vote, HAL’s current designs are expected to be revised for greater cost savings than the £2.5bn already shaved off Heathrow’s original £16.5bn cost estimate. Updated designs will go through a public consultation in early 2019.
The transport secretary said privately financed expansion “must be affordable” for consumers and confirmed that to appease airlines, which have been concerned about sharp rises in landing charges, the Civil Aviation Authority will ensure charges do not rise above current levels.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) director of external affairs Marie Claude-Hemming said the government must make sure opportunities connected to expansion are quickly made available.
She said: “The UK loses nearly £1.2bn per annum because of a shortfall in airport capacity, and the urgency of addressing the situation has only become more acute since the Brexit vote.”
But Institute of Mechanical Engineers head of engineering Jenifer Baxter cautioned transport systems must be improved before the airport expands.
She said: “In 2015, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers drew attention to the wider questions concerning the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. These included the key issues of increasing capacity at Heathrow by the time the third runway is built and that we should also look at the possibilities for expansion at Stansted and Gatwick, with better rail links between our three main London airports.
“There is an increasing need for more integrated ground-based local transport systems that reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and are fit for the 21st century.”
Heathrow expansion was approved in principle by the government in October 2016, before a draft NPS was published in February 2017. Since then two public consultations have taken place on the NPS and one public consultation on Heathrow’s designs.
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