Third Heathrow runway expected to be given the go-ahead
Following years of deliberation, the UK government is finally set to decide on whether to give the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow.
Prime Minister Theresa May will include the issue in a meeting of ministers on the Cabinet’s economic sub-committee.
If the committee signs off the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), it will then go before the full Cabinet for approval later on Tuesday morning.
The proposal has long been debated in parliament with many who favour it saying it will help to ease the UK’s congested airspace and have a knock-on positive effect on the economy, while those against it are concerned about the impact it will have on air quality and the environment.
The cabinet itself is split; foreign secretary Boris Johnson strongly opposed the proposal when he was London Mayor, calling the whole project a “fantasy”.
If the project gets the green light, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is likely to make a statement to MPs, who are expected to be given a vote on the NPS within 21 sitting days.
Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport, but it is now running at full capacity. The expansion plans are expected to cost £14bn and are likely to get the go-ahead.
An independent commission recommended Heathrow as the site for a new runway in 2015, saying that adding capacity there would bring the country the greatest economic benefits. The government has based its national policy statement on these findings.
However, critics warn the plan is “expensive and complex” and bad for the environment, with one pressure group even hinting that legal action may be taken against the Department for Transport (DfT) over its “dodgy” handling of the process.
Alternative schemes include expanding Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.
Any announcement in favour of a third runway is likely to be met with dismay by MPs from across the divide whose constituencies are already affected by Heathrow air traffic.
On Monday, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, whose Twickenham seat stands to be affected by expansion, branded the scheme “ill-conceived”.
Meanwhile, Extend the Runway - a group advocating increasing capacity by lengthening the airport’s northern runway - said the DfT “lacks both expertise and attention to detail” and had not listened to its proposal.
“People should have zero confidence that the DfT have run a rigorous process on Heathrow’s expensive and complex plan,” the group said on Twitter.
The No Third Runway Coalition, which counts Sir Vince and Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell among its members, said the DfT’s process had been “dodgy and has favoured Heathrow Airport Ltd from the start”.
“That will be proven in court, if it comes to it,” they added.
The Aviation Environment Federation said it is “extremely unlikely that the government will have been able to find solutions to key challenges related to the environmental impacts of expansion”.
The group said: “The Aviation Strategy, which is being taken forward under a separate process to the Heathrow NPS, will set out how the environmental impacts of aviation nationally should be tackled, but will not be consulted upon until later this year, with publication of the final strategy not expected until the middle of next year.
“The decision on Heathrow is set to be taken, therefore, in the absence of any policy on how to tackle aviation’s carbon emissions, so with no clarity on whether limits on aviation growth will be needed in order to meet climate change obligations.”