Tuesday 24 October 2017

Third runway at Heathrow faces delays despite clearance

An airplane takes off over the rooftops of nearby houses at Heathrow Airport in Harmondsworth. Photo: AP
An airplane takes off over the rooftops of nearby houses at Heathrow Airport in Harmondsworth. Photo: AP

Kylie MacLellan and Sarah Young

Britain has backed an £18bn (€20bn) expansion of Heathrow Airport that ends 25 years of indecision and promises to boost global trade links following the vote to leave the European Union.

Europe's busiest airport defeated a proposal from smaller rival Gatwick and will secure the first new full-length runway to be built near London in 70 years. Environmental and political protests scuppered previous attempts.

British prime minister Theresa May, a former critic of Heathrow expansion, said she had opted for a plan that would boost the economy, create jobs and provide access to global markets.

But her decision put her on an immediate collision course with senior politicians, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who oppose the plan.

"After decades of delay we are showing that we will take the big decisions when they're the right decisions for Britain," she told London's 'Evening Standard' newspaper.

The decision to jump-start one of Europe's biggest infrastructure projects is one of Ms May's most significant moves since she took office in July and follows her approval in September of a $24bn nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point.

By choosing to build a third runway at Heathrow, which will require rebuilding parts of the motorway circling London, Ms May opted for the more expensive and complex option over cheaper plans to extend a Heathrow runway or build a new one at Gatwick.

According to a three-year study by Britain's independent Airports Commission, a new runway at Heathrow would create 70,000 new jobs by 2050 and increase gross domestic product by between 0.65 and 0.75pc over the same period.

It will also enable Britain to keep pace with Europe's biggest airports in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, which boast greater capacity, while Heathrow's established links with emerging markets were seen to strengthen its case in the wake of Britain's June vote to leave the EU.

But, within hours of the decision, politicians were lining up to denounce it. Foreign Secretary Johnson said a third runway was "undeliverable". London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he would oppose the expansion, and MP Zac Goldsmith is expected to leave the Conservative Party over the issue.

The project is now likely to face legal challenges and a final vote by politicians in a year's time, meaning the runway can only open by 2025 at the earliest. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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