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It's on: MPs approve Heathrow expansion

heathrow 17581396798706 Cropped

Heathrow expansion will go ahead after the third runway was backed by MPs in a Commons vote.

After a seven hour debate, Heathrow’s £14bn expansion plans won political backing, with 415 votes for the scheme and 119 votes against it. 

The privately funded scheme will now start to finalise its designs before applying for a development consent order (DCO) in 2020.

There had been speculation over whether expansion would pass the vote after the Labour party withdrew its support last week, although MPs were given a free vote on expansion.

Several prominent Conservative MPs were expected to defy a three-line whip and vote against expansion, including ex-trade minister Greg Hands who resigned to rebel against the third runway.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson received much criticism for leaving the country ahead of the vote, avoiding the tough choice between falling in line and voting for expansion or resigning.

Johnson famously promised he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers” to stop construction of the third runway.

But Johnson told his constituents expansion might not go ahead, as he promised to keep fighting the third runway from within Cabinet.

In a letter seen by the Evening Standard he said: “On election night I promised with John McDonnell, the Labour MP, to lie in front of the bulldozers.

“In view of the very considerable difficulties that still face the third runway — its cost and the appalling air and noise pollution entailed by the project — I believe it will be a very long time before we have to make good on that pledge; if indeed a 3rd runway ever comes about.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond also escaped the vote on a trade mission in India, but said he would have backed expansion if he had been in the country.

Despite support from MPs, the third runway is not out of the woods yet – legal challenges against the scheme are expected in the next few days from several London boroughs, mayor of London Sadiq Khan and possibly Transport for London (TfL) among others.

One source told New Civil Engineer the biggest stumbling block for Heathrow is likely to be air quality – the UK government has a legal obligation to meet EU air quality targets and must not pass any project which delays compliance.

Businesses have broadly welcomed the political backing. Campaign group London First infrastructure director David Leam said it was now time to get on with expansion.

He said: “This decision is long overdue. Heathrow is a vital passenger and freight hub for the British economy.

“The vote by MPs tonight confirms the support from the government and of the independent Airports Commission.

“We now have a broad consensus that Heathrow expansion is the right decision for the UK, and we should now get on with it.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Philip Alexander

    Madness. £14 BILLION for 1 runway. What is this, a huge joke? It doesn't even make Heathrow into a world class 4 runway airport. Having 3 is just dopey in operational terms. Whereas a SECOND runway at Gatwick would cost no more than £3 billion. And the two can be operated together as a world class 4 runway airport. Why keep stuffing more and more travellers into one highly congested location?
    It's a typical politician's stupid decision because they don't understand anything technical, they don't even show any commonsense. I give up on UK politicians ever making any sensible infrastructure decisions.

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