MPs last night voted in favour controversial plans to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, with the majority backing expansion.
The plans won the key vote by 415 to 119, despite the Scottish National Party abstaining.
Tory MPs were ordered to support the government’s plan to approve the plans. While the Labour party officially opposed the third runway on the grounds of environmental concerns, leader Jeremy Corbyn allowed his MPs a free vote on the issue.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson – who is also MP for South Ruislip and Uxbridge near Heathrow and vowed to lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent building works – was allowed to miss the vote due to a trip to Afghanistan, drawing criticism from his fellow MPs throughout the debate. However, he said following the example of MP Greg Hands and stepping down in protest would “achieve absolutely nothing” and that he is confident the new runway will never be built.
The move has proved unpopular with groups opposed to the project, which they claim could breach air pollution targets and may lead to many houses around the airport to be knocked down to make way for the new runway.
The No 3rd Runway Coalition and London mayor Sadiq Khan plan to launch a legal challenge against the decision, with environmental group Greenpeace UK saying it would join their side.
Paul McGuinness, chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, commented: “Heathrow’s shareholders may well have noted the lack of cross-party unity in this vote, and the fact that members of the governing party only supported the third runway under sufferance.
“There’s a long way to go before Heathrow can start knocking down villages or putting spades in the ground. And even though one shouldn’t underestimate the political risk that will continue to dog this project, we shall be supporting the legal action of our member councils and City Hall, in which they are utterly confident of victory.”
Friends of the Earth said those who voted in favour of expansion would “be harshly judged by history” and claimed a larger Heathrow will “only intensify the misery” of a “climate crisis”.
Surinder Arora, founder and chairman of the Arora Group – which submitted its own proposal for building terminal facilities to support the third runway – said: “This stamp of approval from MPs for Heathrow expansion is a vital further step – but there now needs to be an independent process to determine who can best deliver each element of the expansion… Costs must be kept down for the expansion to work and Heathrow’s track record should be a cause for concern.”
The reaction within the business travel sector has been largely positive, with Jason Geall, vice president and general manager for Northern Europe at American Express Global Business Travel, saying: “This was an important vote for the country and our ability to grow trade globally. Trade has never been higher up the political agenda and today that rhetoric has been matched by action.
“Long-haul, direct and frequent connectivity to the fastest-growing markets is vital to making the UK an attractive place for trade and investment, and the business travel community will be heartened that after years of deliberation, Parliament has supported the government’s position on expanding Heathrow.
“However, we recognise that Heathrow is the UK’s hub, not just for the South East. The additional capacity must ensure that regional connections are re-established and the global direct connections that our hub sustains can drive growth across the country.”
Colin Wood, managing director of transportation for the UK and Ireland at infrastructure giant AECOM, commented: “We agree with the transport secretary’s sentiment that this decision is vital for the country if it is to maintain its position as a global nation in a post-Brexit world. It’s taken far too long for this decision to be made, so we must now focus on accelerating delivery. The government must act decisively, working with industry to secure the necessary planning approvals as well as the private funds needed to deliver this vital project.”
Mark Tanzer, CEO of ABTA, said: “The vote in favour of expansion at Heathrow is an important step forward in tackling the constraint on airport capacity in the South East. With Heathrow operating at full capacity, expansion will deliver the increased connectivity UK businesses need, enabling new trade links to be forged with fast growing economies across the globe.
“ABTA recognises that expansion must be delivered in a sustainable and cost-effective manner, and we welcome the role the CAA will play in ensuring consumers are not burdened with the costs. Association of British Travel Agents will continue to represent its members’ views – and those of their customers – as part of the ongoing consultation process.”
Regional carrier Flybe said in a statement: “Flybe welcomes yesterday’s House of Commons vote approving the long-awaited decision on airport expansion that finally paves the way for work to start in making it become reality. The airline looks forward to continuing to work with Heathrow to explore the viability and commercial feasibility of developing more domestic routes to ensure the expanded airport benefits the whole of the UK.”
Commenting on concerns about transport to and from the airport with increased capacity, Graham Cross, CEO of Heathrow Southern Railway – an independent venture that aims to improve connectivity to Heathrow in the South East – said: “Approval of the [National Policy Statement] means the government’s engagement process with private sector promoters of a southern rail link to Heathrow are opened as soon as possible to ameliorate existing road congestion and poor air quality whilst anticipating further growth in passenger numbers associated with the third runway.”
Meanwhile, Nick Barton, CEO of Luton airport, commented: “The House of Commons’ approval of the Heathrow third runway is a welcome sign of the government’s commitment to providing much needed aviation capacity in the South East. This is an important step forward which now needs to be backed up with swift and decisive action. This means ensuring all of London’s airports can make the best use of their existing capacity by improving links between rail and air and by modernising the UK’s airspace.”
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow airport, praised the decision, saying: “Parliament has ended 50 years of debate by deciding that Heathrow expansion will go ahead. This vote will see us deliver more jobs, create a lasting legacy of skills for future generations and guarantee expansion is delivered responsibly. We are grateful that MPs have made the right choice for Britain and today we start work to create the best connected hub airport in the world.”
Heathrow says it is preparing to hold a second public consultation on the plans approved by Parliament before applying for planning permission to begin works, which it expects to take 18 months.
The airport says if it receives planning approval, construction on the third runway could begin in 2021, with an opening set for 2026.