The British government has backed the construction of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport, with a cabinet meeting approving the plan on Tuesday.
The Heathrow expansion plan, including the development of an additional runway, will now go to a vote in parliament over the next few weeks.
Heathrow’s proposal is for a new runway to the northwest of the existing two parallel runways. The extra capacity will allow the airport to handle up to 260,000 additional flights a year.
Extensive road realignment and construction will also be needed with the new runway set to pass over the busy M25 arterial motorway that circles London.
The UK’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said “Expansion at Heathrow presents a unique opportunity to deliver a multi-billion pound boost to our economy, strengthen our global links and maintain our position as a world leader in aviation.”
Grayling said the government had spent time listening to views and reviewing more than 80,000 consultation responses and will ensure “a world-class package of measures to help any local communities affected by the expansion.”
Local residents will be compensated by an up to GBP£2.6 billion (USD$3.5 billion) fund for noise insulation and to improve community amenities. A 6.5 hour scheduled night flight ban and legally enforceable noise restrictions are also part of the proposal.
A new Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise will be created as an “independent expert voice on noise issues,” the government said.
There has been a wide range of support for the expansion of capacity-constrained Heathrow, ranging from big business to big unions.
The British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said “Business communities across the UK want an end to decades of political indecision and an unequivocal green light for Heathrow expansion.”
He said “A resounding vote for Heathrow expansion in Parliament would do more than just unlock this crucial infrastructure project, as it would give a huge boost to business confidence and investment at a time of significant change.”
Britain’s largest union Unite is also supportive, with General Secretary Len McCluskey urging members of parliament to approve expansion.
“Expansion will deliver these jobs and growth to every nation and region of the UK, whilst Heathrow delivers on the work they have been doing to address environmental concerns; all at a critical time for UK workers,” he said.
The extra runway is not without its critics including British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who has vowed to stop construction. It is understood that the only cabinet member to vote against the proposal was Johnson.
The government set up an Airports Commission in 2012 to give an independent view of how additional runway capacity in the southeast of England could be achieved, including building a completely new airport in the Thames Estuary.
The Commission’s final report selected three projects for final consideration: a new northwest runway at Heathrow, a new second runway at Gatwick and an extended northern runway at Heathrow. It recommended the Heathrow northwest runway as having the strongest case.
The airport set up a ten week consultation process earlier this year on the location and size of a third runway. The consultation ended in late March and the government has been considering the options since then.