Heathrow runway expansion wins majority Parliament vote amid opposition

Today, industry members with a stake in the battle for the expansion of London Heathrow Airport (LHR) have cause to celebrate following news of the U.K.’s House of Commons majority vote on the project, forecasted to cost £14 billion and see completion in 2026. However, the controversy around the decision has not died down.

Groups including the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the British International Freight Association (BIFA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are long-time advocates of the initiative, a.k.a. the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), pointing to congestion at the airport that limits carriers’ and forwarders’ ability to meet demand for cargo capacity through the hub.

“The approval of the NPS is a momentous day for air travel, not just in the U.K., but for the global air transport network,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s regional vice president for Europe, in a statement released today. “This decision will create new jobs and new economic opportunities in the U.K. and strengthen ties to growing export markets.”

Robert Keen, director general of BIFA, also applauded the vote, but also expressed concern about continued foot-dragging by the U.K. government in terms of execution. “Whilst BIFA welcomes the positive news from Parliament yesterday, today’s media coverage of the obstacles that the project still faces leave me with a certain sense of foreboding whether the spades will ever hit the ground,” he said.

Keen added that detailed plans for the expansion must drawn up, which will be subject to more public consultation and judicial review, and that several local organizations may be mounting legal challenges. “Each new hurdle that appears will only increase delays further and the chance of another political volte-face is ever present,” he said. “I can only hope that yesterday’s vote does not just open another protracted chapter in the 30-year story of procrastination over Heathrow in particular and U.K. aviation capacity in general.”

Indeed, the opposition appears to be unwilling to throw in the towel. The London Assembly, the elected body that scrutinizes mayoral decisions, “unanimously opposes” the expansion of the airport due to the potential for increased air pollution, noise and the “health impact it will have on Londoners,” the organization said in a statement. “Together with the mayor we shall seek to overturn this calamitous decision, which can only increase the environmental harm that the airport already creates,” said Tony Arbour, chairman of the governmental body.

Chris Grayling, secretary of state for transport, will set the policy framework for Heathrow’s northwest runway development consent application to be approved by Parliament. Should the plans receive approval, construction will begin in 2021.

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