After years of wrangling with aviation interests, trade groups and concerned community activists, the U.K. government has made the long-awaited decision to approve a third runway at London Heathrow Airport. Since last year, Heathrow and Gatwick airports had been hanging in limbo, waiting to see which facility would get the green light on a much-needed expansion for both airfreight and passenger operations.
Today, the larger Heathrow emerged victorious, with the U.K. Department for Transport saying the project is “a central part of the government’s plan to build a global Britain and an economy that works for everyone. This is just one of a series of major infrastructure investments that will create jobs and opportunities for every part of the U.K.”
The new runway, which is being called first of its kind to be constructed in the southeast U.K. since World War II, will reap an estimated £61 billion, the government said, creating up to 77,000 additional jobs over the next 14 years. Heathrow currently handles about 31 percent of the U.K.’s non-EU trade, and its expansion “will create even more opportunities for UK business to get their goods to new markets,” the department said.
“The step that government is taking today is truly momentous,” said Department for Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. “I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the U.K.’s place in the global aviation market.” He added that the new runway will improve connectivity, both within the U.K. and with the rest of the world. “Expansion at the airport will better connect the U.K. to long haul destinations across the globe and to growing world markets including Asia and South America, bringing a significant boost to trade.”
The decision, of course, is not without controversy. Former London Mayor and current U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has long opposed the project, criticized today’s decision, telling Reuters 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.”
A third runway, Johnson said, would immediately lead to “clamor” for a fourth runway at Heathrow. “Then what would London be like?” he asked. “You’d have New York, a city of beautiful skyscrapers, Paris, the city of light, London, the city of planes. Is that really what we want for our fantastic capital city?”
Grayling added that the government’s plan will be “subject to full and fair public consultation,” which will address the concerns of those residents living near the airport. “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 £2.6 billion, including community support, insulation, and respite from noise – balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion.”
Stewart Wingate, CEO at Gatwick Airport, which had hoped for a decision to add a second runway to its footprint, was understandably disappointed with the vote. “We do not believe this is the right answer for Britain,” he said in a statement. “Gatwick has put forward a credible financeable and deliverable plan for expansion. It is a plan that can guarantee growth and guarantee certainty for Britain… The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed.”
Wingate said that he looks forward to “studying the full reasons behind the government decision in detail,” adding that Gatwick still “stands ready to proceed when the time comes.”