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Cabinet approves third runway plan for Heathrow

Words: Laura Edgar
Heathrow third runway visualisation

The government’s economic subcommittee has backed plans for a third runway at London Heathrow Airport. Plans were then approved by Prime Minister Theresa May’s full cabinet.

The government has published the proposed Airports National Policy Statement, which provides a framework for the expansion. It states that the Secretary of State "will use the Airports NPS as the primary basis for making decisions on any development consent application for a new Northwest Runway at Heathrow Airport, which is the government’s preferred scheme".

It will also be an “important and relevant consideration in respect of applications for new runway capacity and other airport infrastructure in London and the South East of England”.

The NPS comprises the specific planning requirements applicants would need to meet to gain development consent, as well as what assessments need carrying out, including biodiversity and ecological conversation, green belt, landscape impacts, air quality, community compensation and community engagement.

The proposal would deliver the third runway in a “cost-efficient and sustainable way, with a comprehensive package of measures to support affected communities and protect the environment”, the government said.

A 2015 report by the Airports Commission said London’s airports are “showing unambiguous signs of strain”, and concluded that expanding runway capacity at Heathrow was the best option over a second runway at Gatwick Airport and a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

The government has asked the Civil Aviation Authority to make sure the expansion scheme “remains affordable while meeting the needs of passengers”. It added that expansion would be financed privately.

Tens of thousands of jobs are expected to be created, while the new runway could bring up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy. More flights within the UK would be facilitated as a result, while an extra 16 million long-haul seats will be available by 2040, the government explained.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “Expansion at Heathrow presents a unique opportunity to deliver a multibillion-pound boost to our economy, strengthen our global links and maintain our position as a world leader in aviation.

“As we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the world’s best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this.

“We have listened to views through our consultations and will ensure a world-class package of measures to help any local communities affected by the expansion.”

The NPS provides for a package of compensation and mitigation measures to support those affected by the expansion, with up to £2.6 billion for compensation, noise insulation and community amenities. Additionally, it includes plans for a 6.5 hour scheduled night flight ban and noise restrictions that the government says will be legally enforceable.

Development consent for expansion would only be granted on the basis that it is delivered within existing air quality obligations, the government insisted.

Parliament will debate and vote on the NPS in the coming weeks, with a decision expected by 11 July.

The Airports National Policy Statement can be found on the UK Government website.


Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said: "When the Transport Committee published its report on the Airports National Policy Statement in March – we recommended that safeguards be added before it passed to MPs for debate. Now that the final Airports National Policy Statement has been laid, we will be able to see what changes the government has made to mitigate the significant social and environmental impacts from expansion at Heathrow.

“We won’t have analysed all of the information published today in time for the debate we’ve secured on our report on Thursday this week but that debate will be a useful opportunity for all Members to consider and debate our recommendations. These plans have been more than 20 years in the making. The fallout from the decision will last much longer. It’s important we get this right."

Al Watson, head of planning and environment at Taylor Wessing, said the government announcement “reminds us that having a policy that says 'yes' to a third runway does not build anything at all”.

Previous policy support, he noted, “right back to 2003, has come and gone, and no concrete has magically appeared”.

"Rather, this is the start of another marathon lap for both the aviation industry and the local communities. The planning system is designed to intensely scrutinise the suggested benefits and impacts of such projects. The proposed third runway has both of those in abundance; lots of local, regional and national economic benefits, and also very many issues that cause grave concern for people's health.

"Even if the government gets a yes vote in the Commons before the summer break, the next lap of this heated and gruelling battle is already set for the High Court come the autumn. On top of that? The airport and airlines won't agree on a budget, and the surrounding communities won't give up the opposition fight."

Jenny Bates, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, commented: “It’s depressingly ironic that the cabinet has given the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow on World Environment Day.

“Heathrow expansion would be bad news for our climate and will bring more noise, air pollution and misery to local residents.

“MPs must stand-up for local people and our environment and vote against this scheme.”

Kim Cohen, partner at Barton Willmore, welcomed that a decision has been made.

“Opportunities and benefits, both economic and social, are significant to say the least. The (hopefully) swift expansion of Heathrow as the hub airport will of course provide huge opportunities and not insignificant challenges for the immediate Thames Valley; and through the inevitable associated national infrastructure projects and improvements will be the catalyst for national and regional growth – growth that the UK’s regional airports can contribute to as economic growth hubs.”

While Heathrow is the government’s preferred option for expansion, Cohen noted that many would argue that it should be the starting point and not the end, and “not without considerable merit”.

“Increased capacity at other airports must surely follow. For now though, the task is to deliver on the decision that has been made.”

Image credit | Heathrow Airport