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Ministers opt for third runway at Heathrow

Published: Thursday, 27th October 2016

Government expects Heathrow expansion to bring a major boost to the UK economy worth up to £61bn, however it faces the prospect of a series of legal challenges to its airport capacity decision…

The government this week formally announced its support for a third runway at Heathrow, the first new full length runway in south-east England since the Second World War.

A draft National Policy Statement (NPS) setting out why the government believes this scheme is the right one for the UK will be published in the new year when the public will be consulted on the proposals.

Ministers insisted that a new runway at Heathrow would bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61bn. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “A new runway at Heathrow will improve connectivity in the UK itself and crucially boost our connections with the rest of the world, supporting exports, trade and job opportunities.”

And he stressed: “the government’s preferred scheme will be subject to full and fair public consultation. That is why we have made clear that expansion will only be allowed to proceed on the basis of a world class package of compensation and mitigation worth up to £2.6bn, including community support, insulation, and respite from noise, balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion.”

The UK government has highlighted that a third runway will also support new connections to the UK’s regions as well as safeguarding existing domestic routes.

Heathrow has proposed a further six new routes to Belfast International, Liverpool, Newquay, Humberside, Prestwick and Durham Tees Valley to be added after expansion. The eight existing routes offered today are: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Belfast City, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds Bradford.

Despite the increase in flights Heathrow Airport Ltd and ministers have made firm commitments on noise reduction. The government will propose that a six-and-a-half-hour ban on scheduled night flights will be introduced for the first time at Heathrow and will make more stringent night noise restrictions a requirement of expansion.

The government has concluded that a new runway at Heathrow is deliverable within air quality limits, if necessary mitigation measures are put in place, in line with the ‘National air quality plan’, published last December.

The promised NPS will be consulted on and will be subject to a vote in the Commons. This will be followed by a planning application by the airport to the Planning Inspectorate who will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport.

In time a new runway will also require the redesign of the airport’s flightpaths. The government expects to consult in the new year on a range of national proposals covering noise and airspace.

The Department for Transport has set up a working group with the Treasury and the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs on air quality. The government believes that a new runway at Heathrow can be delivered within the UK’s international obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, the government has emphasised that it wants to see the continued prosperity of the UK’s second busiest airport, and the world’s busiest single runway airport, Gatwick. Expansion of Gatwick was one of the alternatives to expansion at Heathrow.

The administration faces the prospect of a series of legal challenges to its airport capacity decision. One Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, has already resigned over the issue. Heathrow’s expectation that the new runway could be built by 2025 looks wildly optimistic.

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Roger Milne