Heathrow Airport will get a new runway by late 2020s

Green light for new runway at Heathrow Airport

Image credit: Tony Hisgett

The UK government has finally decided on where the new runway should be built to provide a much needed increase in airport capacity. Heathrow is the winner over Gatwick, in line with the recommendations of the UK’s Airports Commission. But parliamentary approval is needed before construction can start.

If all goes to plan, the £18bn runway could be up and running by 2025. With only two runways, Heathrow, currently Europe's busiest airport, faces fierce competition from other European facilities including Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, which is set to seize the crown for Europe’s biggest air hub by 2020.

The UK has been pondering the decision for 25 years.

“The step that government is taking today is truly momentous,” said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. “I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this Government is taking decisive action to secure the UK’s place in the global aviation market - securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.”

The government also rejected the option to only expand an existing runway at Heathrow.

Local residents, supported by former London Mayor and current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, hoped for a different outcome. The expansion of Heathrow could worsen noise and pollution problems in the area.

The government reacted to the concerns by proposing legally binding noise targets including a six-and-a-half hour night flight ban.

The regulations may encourage airlines to invest into quieter planes. The airport has also promised to provide £700m to residents for noise insulation.

The Airports Commission said a new runway at Heathrow would create 70,000 new jobs by 2050 and increase gross domestic product by between 0.65 and 0.75 per cent by 2050, representing a £147bn boost to the economy over 60 years.

The commission also favoured Heathrow over Gatwick as it is better positioned to cater for long-haul flights, which may become increasingly important as the UK focuses on relations with emerging markets in the wake of Brexit.

“This isn’t just a great deal for business, it’s a great deal for passengers who will also benefit from access to more airlines, destinations and flights,” Grayling said, adding that the decision will be “subject to full and fair public consultation”.

“We have made clear that expansion will only be allowed to proceed on the basis of a world class package of compensation and mitigation worth up to £2.6bn, including community support, insulation, and respite from noise - balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion,” he said.

Heathrow is currently limited to serve 480,000 flights a year compared with up to 600,000 offered by airports with more runways.

“Expansion of Heathrow is the only option that will connect all the UK to global growth, helping to build a stronger and fairer economy,” a Heathrow Airport spokesman said.

“We await the full details, but 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 government’s decision was welcomed by industry and business representatives, who agreed more airport capacity is needed to drive economic growth.

“Put simply, it’s about time,” said Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. “Successive governments have prevaricated for far too long in the face of a blindingly obvious need for more runway capacity. 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.”

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Giving the green light to Heathrow expansion is the right one for industry and the country. Heathrow will be a key linchpin in enabling post-Brexit trade and this decision provides reassurance to manufacturers that access to direct, efficient and cost-effective trade routes to the rest of the world will be backed by action and not just words.”

However, environmental campaigners didn't share the enthusiasm.

“Building a third runway at Heathrow would in itself take a huge chunk out of the Green Belt, but creating the biggest airport in the world on London’s western edge would have an even more disastrous impact,” said Ralph Smyth of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

“Pressure for extra development would be felt in almost every village from the north of Oxfordshire to the south coast, urbanising and industrialising swathes of our most precious countryside.”

The expansion of the aviation hub, which is co-owned by Spanish infrastructure company Ferrovial, Qatar Holding, China Investment Corp and other investors, will be paid for by the private sector.

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