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Heathrow expansion: Resignations, protests and applause

A round-up of responses to the third runway decision

Mark Moran
26 October 2016

The government’s decision to support a third runway at Heathrow has generated a range of dramatic reactions. As expected the decision has been warmly welcomed by business groups, but strongly criticised by environmental organisations, several London boroughs that lie in the flightpath and groups representing affected residents.

The divisive nature of the debate about expanding Heathrow affects into the very heart of the government that has green-lit the plan. As MP for Maidenhead Theresa May was a high profile critic of plans to expand Heathrow, but as Prime Minister she is now committed to the new runway.

A sign of the political tensions the third runway plan is capable of generating is evident in the fact that Conservative-controlled Windsor & Maidenhead Council is now at odds with Mrs May. The council is actively opposing the airport, having pledged £50,000 towards a legal action against Heathrow expansion being planned by Hillingdon, Richmond and Wandsworth councils in partnership with the environmental charity Greenpeace. 

There are also fundamental differences of opinion within the Cabinet, with a number of ministers having constituencies within Heathrow’s flightpath. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson and education secretary Justine Greening are being allowed to express their concerns, for the time being. 

While acknowledging there are strong feelings for and against the third runway, transport secretary Chris Grayling has made it clear the government is intent on pressing ahead with the third runway option, telling Parliament: “This is not the same scheme that was supported in 2009. It does much more to mitigate environmental impacts, compensate communities and distribute benefits across the nation. This is an issue of national interest that touches every part of the UK, which is vital to the economic prosperity and global status of our nation.”

Some key reactions to the Heathrow expansion plan:

Boris Johnson: Third runway is ‘undeliverable’

The foreign secretary is MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. The former Mayor of London is a long-standing critic of the runway, and even planned his own plan for new London airport in the Thames Estuary. The ‘Boris Island’ plan was not recommended by the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies, who ultimately recommended expanding Heathrow.

Following the third runway announcement Boris Johnson told the press: “I do think that building a third runway slap bang in the middle of the western suburbs of the greatest city on earth is not the right thing to do. No other world city would dream of subjecting so many hundreds of thousands of people to more noise pollution in the way that a third runway would.

“What I worry about is that down the line, if and when a third runway were to be built, there would be an overwhelming clamour to build a fourth runway as soon as it was completed. And then what would London be like? You would have New York, a city of beautiful skyscrapers, Paris, a city of light and London, the city of planes. Is that really what we want for our fantastic capital city?

“Long ago, when I was mayor of London, we put forward alternative plans for a four runway, 24-hour hub airport that would launch this country abroad, that would give us fantastic connectivity with the rest of the world. Had we got going then with that project, we would now be at leas half, or perhaps two-thirds, of the way down the track. In the long run we will gave to go back to those ideas because Heathrow, in the long term, is not in the right place and, I am afraid, a third runway is undeliverable.”

Justine Greening: Economic case for expansion is ‘weak’

Justine Greening, the education secretary is MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields. An opponent of Heathrow expansion she against the government's decision: "Along with many people in my local community, I am extremely disappointed with the decision to push ahead with a third runway at Heathrow. My views against expanding Heathrow, particularly on the impact of noise and air pollution on local residents and the weak economic case, are long-held and well-known. I will continue to represent the views of my constituents, not least during the forthcoming public consultation on the draft National Policy Statement announced by the Secretary of State for Transport today.” 

Zac Goldsmith: Resignation triggers protest by-election

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith is another critic of expanding Heathrow. He has resigned his seat in a protest against the government's backing for a new runway at Heathrow Airport. His decision forces a by-election in his constituency of Richmond Park & North Kingston, where he will stand as an independent. The Conservatives said they disagreed with Goldsmith's decision but would not field a candidate against him.

Goldsmith told the House of Commons: "The government has chosen a course that is not only wrong, it's doomed. It's wrong because of the million people who'll directly suffer on the back of the environmental harms this project unavoidably produces, and doomed because of the complexities, the cost, the legal complications that mean that this project is almost certainly not going to be delivered. I believe this will be a millstone around this government’s neck for many, many years to come – a constant source of delay, constant source of anger and betrayal among those people who will be directly affected. There are so many questions one could ask in a statement of this sort – I wouldn't even know where to begin. So I simply use this opportunity to put my absolute opposition on the record."

Later, when resigning his seat, Goldsmith told constituents: “Seven years ago I put myself forward as your Conservative parliamentary candidate. I promised you I would fight the threat of Heathrow expansion, which has been a sword hanging over our community for years. I promised you if my party won the election, the third runway would be scrapped. And I wasn't making it up.

“My party leader - the then Leader of the Opposition - made that same promise directly to us. He came here and told us; ‘No ifs, no buts, there will be no third runway’. It was music to our ears. But not everyone believed him, because people assume the worst in politicians. So I followed his promise with my own. I told you that if my party changed its position, I would trigger a by-election and give you a chance to vote again. There was no small print. No expiry date. No ambiguity. It was a simple promise. And it mattered. I know it mattered, because the thought of Heathrow expansion fills most of my constituents with dread.

“Heathrow is already the noisiest airport in Europe, by a huge margin. Adding a third runway will drag nearly a million people into the noise footprint. Heathrow is already breaking pollution limits. A third runway will add nearly 300,000 more flights, and 25 million new road journeys. And the cost of the project will largely fall to the taxpayer. Heathrow is already the most expensive airport in the world. The surface transport costs alone - to accommodate the extra traffic - will be up to £20 billion, which we will have to pay for.

“That’s why my party's promise mattered. It's why my promise mattered. And it's why so many people in our community feel so let down today. I want to be clear; this is not the end. The government has chosen the most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive option. But it has also chosen the option with the least chance of being delivered. The sheer complexity, cost and legal difficulties mean it is unlikely ever to happen. It will be a millstone round this Government's neck for years.”

Sadiq Khan: Heathrow expansion is ‘wrong decision’

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has promised to resist the expansion of Heathrow. He said: “This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain. The government are running roughshod over Londoners' views – just five months ago I was elected as Mayor on a clear platform of opposing a new runway at Heathrow, a position that was shared by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP candidates in that election. 

“A new runway at Heathrow will be devastating for air quality across London – air pollution around the airport is already above legal levels of NO2. Heathrow already exposes more people to aircraft noise than Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid combined. A third runway would mean an extra 200,000 people impacted, exposing 124 more schools and 43,200 more schoolchildren to an unacceptable level of noise.

“An expanded Gatwick would have boosted our economy without causing these huge air and noise pollution problems and it could be built quicker and cheaper. I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months. Most urgently, the government must set out how it's possible for Londoners not to suffer from the additional air and noise pollution that we know will be created by an additional runway at Heathrow. They also need to guarantee that they will fully fund the billions of pounds needed to improve road and rail connections to Heathrow – Londoners cannot be expected to pick up the bill for this.”

London Assembly: Air quality and noise levels are a concern

The London Assembly has been opposed to Heathrow expansion since 2005. Tony Arbour AM, chairman of the London Assembly, said: “We are appalled that the Government has decided to give the green light to expansion at Heathrow, despite the vast body of evidence to indicate this will expose Londoners to higher levels of deadly air pollution, intolerable noise and overwhelming congestion. Also, the need for investment in public transport access for passengers and staff will be substantial in order to keep London’s transport network working. The government has not yet provided nearly enough clarity on whether this investment will be delivered.”

Labour: Differing views

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell is MP for Hayes and Harlington, which lies in the airport’s flightpath. Many homes in his constituency will be demolished as a result of building the third runway, of which he is a critic.

McDonnell said: “I’ve campaigned against this runway for over 30 years and in that time Heathrow has never managed to win the argument for expansion, which still remains the case today. Nothing has changed. Building a third runway would be devastating for local residents who face losing their homes, schools, community centre and village life. It also remains a disaster for air pollution, noise levels and our efforts to tackle climate change.

“4,000 homes face the prospect of either being demolished or rendered unliveable by air pollution and noise. This means 8-10,000 people being forcibly removed from their homes. We have not seen anything on this scale in our country’s history.

However, Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald welcomed the news, with reservations and caveats. He said: "We welcome any decision that will finally give certainty on airport expansion, much needed in terms of investment and growth in our country. However the government’s announcement today is not the end: it is yet another step in the process, rather than the final detail. As such we still need vital reassurance on a number of areas.

"Labour has consistently been in favour of building an additional runway in the south-east of England. But this support has always been conditional on four tests being met: on capacity, climate change, noise and air quality and the wider national benefits. Today’s announcement, heralding another consultation, does not yet do that.

"The government’s proposals on Heathrow have highlighted the urgent need for a comprehensive transport and infrastructure strategy, which is sadly lacking. Not only would this increase investment and growth across the whole country, but it would also address the aviation issues – from effective use of existing capacity through to noise and emissions – that need consistent and long term commitment and support from government.

"The Tories have dithered for far too long. Had ministers not done so, the UK could be much further on in addressing these issues by now. That is why they must now commit to dealing with their proposal’s environmental and infrastructure issues without further delay."

Heathrow Airport: ‘Expansion will connect all UK to global growth’

The decision to back a third runway was supported by Heathrow Airport. A spokesman said: "We welcome the news that Heathrow is government's preferred site for a new runway and look forward to hearing the full details later from the transport secretary. Expansion of Heathrow is the only option that will connect all of the UK to global growth, helping to build a stronger and fairer economy. We await the full details, but Heathrow stands ready to work with Government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK."

Airline industry: Heathrow expansion welcome, but who pays the bill?

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways owner IAG, welcomed Heathrow's expansion, but expressed concerns over the cost of the project and does not want Heathrow to pass costs to airlines. He said: “We're pleased that a decision has finally been made but the cost of this project will make or break it. The government's directive to cap customer charges at today's level is fundamental.

“Heathrow is the world’s most expensive hub airport so it’s critical that new capacity is affordable. The airport has consistently argued that the British economy will benefit if the third runway is approved. Heathrow want it, argued for it and now must ensure it's the UK and the travelling public who get the benefits from the runway, not the airport's owners.”

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet, said: "This is good news for UK consumers and businesses and will help ensure that the UK is better connected to the rest of the world. With the right charging structure and the right infrastructure for our efficient model, easyJet plans to operate from Heathrow, in addition to our existing London bases, providing new routes and lower fares to customers."

Business groups: Heathrow will help economy ‘take off’

Paul Drechsler, president of the CBI, said: “The Prime Minister’s green light to expand the UK’s aviation capacity comes as an enormous relief to firms in every corner of the country. A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision. It will create the air links that will do so much to drive jobs and unlock growth across the UK, allowing even more of our innovative, ambitious and internationally focussed firms, from Bristol to Belfast, to take off and break into new markets.

“With contracts to tender for, apprentices to recruit and supply chains to build, this decision must be taken forward swiftly, giving businesses the confidence to invest. Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible to reap the benefits for jobs and growth, precisely when the country needs them most. 

“This project should form part of a long-term framework for aviation capacity for the whole of the UK. Pressing ahead with key infrastructure projects like this will provide not only a welcome economic stimulus, but will show the world that we are well and truly open for business as we negotiate our exit from the EU.”

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The decision on airport capacity is a welcome boost for British business, which could deliver up to £211 billion of extra economic growth, 180,000 jobs and double the apprenticeships at Heathrow to a total of 10,000. We now need to see budgets committed and shovels in the ground as soon as possible. The green light for a major infrastructure project like this is essential to increasing exports, jobs and growth throughout the UK, with more long-haul routes and double the capacity for freight. We have already worked closely with Heathrow to guarantee small firms will play a major part in the huge £16 billion procurement exercise to build the runway and associated works."

Trade unions: New runway will be good for workers

Trade unions have welcomed the news, which they see as being good for employment. Mick Rix, GMB national officer for transport and distribution, said: “The GMB has a long standing policy of support for Heathrow expansion for the best part of a decade. Heathrow expansion has a clear cut case. The airport needs expansion if it is to retain its world class status as a global hub airport. In recent years because of this long-standing process work has slowly drifted to European competitor hub airports. Heathrow expansion is not reliant on public money. It will be built to stringent environmental standards.” 

CILT: ‘The whole of UK must benefit’

The government’s decision to support the provision of an additional runway at Heathrow should be made into a ‘win-win’ situation for all parties, said the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT).

Kevin Richardson, chief executive of the CILT, said: “The whole of the UK must benefit from this decision. As well as the new runway providing better connectivity from the regions to London and then to the world, the Government should publish a draft National Policy Statement as soon as possible so that the UK’s airports and the airlines which they serve can see a clear strategy ahead, local authorities can plan properly for growth and surface access providers can implement the improvements for many of the airports.”

Daniel Parker-Klein, CILT's head of policy, added: “Government must ensure that the benefits of the decision are fully realised. The conditions set by the decision, related to aircraft noise, air quality and road traffic, must be strictly enforced. This will enable improvements to roads, rail and other infrastructure to be properly planned and investment justified, it will send messages to the aviation industry about the need to continually improve environmental performance, and it will help towards meeting quality of life targets.”

CBT: Heathrow decision is ‘costly and damaging’

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) called the government’s decision to back the building of a new runway at Heathrow Airport “scandalous”. Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Government has decided to press ahead with a new runway at Heathrow, despite the mounting evidence that it will be hugely costly and massively environmentally damaging.

“It’s scandalous that the government has completely ignored the environmental impact of a new runway, or the costs it will impose on people on lower incomes with the huge sums the Airports Commission proposes adding to the cost of plane tickets to allow a new runway to be built. There is also the huge cost to the taxpayer of providing the addition surface access to Heathrow, which Transport for London’s own research shows is likely to be at least £17 billion, and how this will siphon off money from other schemes to tackle London’s already overcrowded transport network.

“There is simply no need for a new runway, at Heathrow, Gatwick or anywhere else if a Frequent Flyer Levy was introduced. This would keep flights affordable for those who only fly occasionally, while making sure those who fly much more frequently properly contribute a price that reflects the impact of what they're doing. We will be joining the many thousands of others who will be fighting this scheme in order to get a more sensible aviation policy.”


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