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MPs vote to expand Heathrow

Words: Laura Edgar
Heathrow airport / Shutterstock_274027481

MPs have voted 415 to 119 to approve the government's chosen scheme, as detailed in its Airports National Policy Statement, of expanding Heathrow Airport by building a third runway.

Conservative MPs were under orders to support the government, the BBC reports, while Labour’s position was to oppose the expansion but allow its MPs to vote freely. The SNP abstained.

It follows a vote by the government’s economic sub-committee to back plans for a third runway at the airport earlier in June. Plans were then approved by Prime Minister Theresa May’s full cabinet.

According to the government, construction on the third runway would start within three years, meaning the runway could be operational in six years.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has formally designated the Airports NPS, paving the way for Heathrow to now submit a formal planning application to the Planning Inspectorate.

A part of this, Heathrow have to carry out further consultation with local communities on the finer details of their scheme design; the associated compensation and mitigation packages; and plans for airspace changes which will then be submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead councils have said they will be seeking a judicial review of the decision. Last week, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he would join the legal fight should MPs vote in favour, and stated on social media that he will follow through with this last night (25 June).

Grayling said the government will defend this decision against any legal challenges.

Accelerating climate change

Oliver Hayes, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “MPs who backed this climate-wrecking new runway will be harshly judged by history.

“The evidence on the accelerating climate crisis, which is already hitting the world’s most vulnerable people, is overwhelming – and expanding Heathrow will only intensify the misery.

“The aviation industry has been promising cleaner planes forever and a day, with little progress or investment.”

Without a government plan to mitigate carbon emissions at Heathrow Airport following expansion, or to address its current “illegal” air pollution levels, Hayes said it is “astounding” the scheme has been given the go-ahead.

The director of FoE’s Scotland office, Dr Richard Dixon, added: “By abstaining, SNP MPs have stayed silent and this awful proposal has passed despite the clear and repeated warning about its effect on the climate. The SNP has clearly felt the pressure from the thousands of people who have been emailing their MPs, but being a climate leader means taking hard decisions and voting no to destructive projects like the Heathrow runway. You can’t abstain on climate change.

“While better than supporting the project, the SNP’s symbolic abstention has done nothing to challenge this damaging, polluting plan. Heathrow is already the UK’s biggest carbon polluter and we should be finding ways to drastically cut emissions from the aviation sector rather than encouraging them to further drive climate change.”

Significant economic benefit and concerns

Iain Painting, senior planning partner at Barton Willmore, comments:  “After decades of debate, this is a historic decision for the South East and the UK as a whole. It will deliver significant economic benefit and business confidence to the country, and attention also now needs to turn to how to best maximise this for the local area and local communities.

“Because this is more than just a new runway – Heathrow’s expansion needs to be carefully planned for and considered, to ensure the complementary delivery of new homes, hotels, commercial and industrial space and transport connections that will be required. This will be no mean feat in an area constrained by green belt and where existing local plans do not accommodate the expected housing need or demand for commercial and hotel space that will go hand in hand with an expanded Heathrow.”

He said an overarching strategic plan should be sought to ensure that properly planned development is built in the right places at the right time.

Al Watson, head of planning and environment at law firm Taylor Wessing, said the vote in favour of expansion 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 with the ‘yes’ vote in the Commons, the next lap of this heated and gruelling battle is already set for the High Court come the autumn with four local authorities, the competing Heathrow Hub scheme, and the Mayor of London and Transport for London all lining up for a shakedown. 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.”

Skills shortage

Mark Farmer, CEO at Cast and author of a review into the capacity of the construction industry, said expanding Heathrow provides an interesting opportunity to the construction industry to deliver in a different way.

“Heathrow Airport’s delivery team have recognised that Britain’s construction industry does not have the capacity to deliver such a major infrastructure project in a conventional way. With major skills shortages already visible throughout the sector and further concerns of labour shortages post-Brexit, one only has to look at the telltale signs showing at the labour intensive tail end of the Crossrail project. Ongoing labour force problems, cost escalation, schedule delays and question marks over quality are all evident and do not bode well for Heathrow.

“That is why Heathrow’s ambitious plan to deliver a significant proportion of the construction in four remote ‘logistics hub’ locations across the UK is a real game changer for major UK infrastructure. It plays to the government’s wider Industrial Strategy ambitions of rebalancing economic growth across the country, it will create new manufacture-led construction supply chains, it will massively improve productivity, reduce site waste and will reduce the perennial risks associated with traditional on-site delivery.”

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