Plane taking off from Heathrow

Heathrow’s third runway gets parliamentary stamp of approval

Image credit: Dreamstime

Following years of discussion and delay, MPs have voted in favour of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. A coalition of London boroughs and the Mayor of London is preparing legal action against the Department for Transport following the decision.

The vote came 15 years after a third runway at Heathrow was first suggested by the then-Labour government. Longstanding critic of the third runway, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who previously promised to lie in front of bulldozers to prevent the expansion, was conspicuously absent from the vote on a diplomatic trip to Afghanistan.

Outside Parliament, environmental campaigners staged a protest, and several managed to make their way into Parliament before being removed by police.

The government won the vote by a majority of 296 yesterday. The large majority was made possible with the support of many Labour MPs for the proposal; although the party officially opposed the expansion, it offered a free vote for its MPs on the issue. The Scottish National Party, which has been the third-largest party since 2015, abstained on the vote. Meanwhile, a number of Conservative MPs rebelled against their party’s line, with one minister, Greg Hands – who represents a West London constituency – resigning from the front bench in order to vote against the government.

Unite – the UK’s largest trade union – supported the decision, as did the Confederation of British Industry and other business groups. The expansion is said to bring 114,000 new jobs to the area around Heathrow by 2030 and provide 16 million additional seats on long-haul flights by 2040, as well as guaranteed internal flights. The government has said that it will be built at no cost to the taxpayer and will have built-in environmental protections.

 “This is a really important moment in the history of this House and the history of this country,” said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling following the vote.

A coalition of London councils affected by the expansion (Wandsworth, Richmond, Hillingdon and Hammersmith & Fulham) has announced that it will be taking the government to court over the decision. They are joined by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – who has made improving air quality in London a priority in office – and environmental pressure group Greenpeace.

“If ministers don’t want to uphold the laws protecting us from toxic fumes and climate change, we’re going to ask a court to do that,” said John Sauven, Greenpeace UK executive director.

Critics of the expansion also argue that Heathrow is already Europe’s busiest airport, and that the building project will result in nearby historic settlements being bulldozed and covered in concrete to make way for the runway.

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