Heathrow reaction round up: End of the beginning...again

 

While a final vote in Parliament on Heathrow expansion is not due for around a year’s time, by backing Heathrow the Government today fired the starting gun on fights, feuds, prospective legal challenges, protests and a by-election.

Within moments of the announcement, reactions started flooding in. There can’t be many things that shadow chancellor John McDonnell and foreign secretary Boris Johnson agree on, but the problems of Heathrow expansion are among them.

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Heathrow's third runway plans

Both Mr McDonnell and Mr Johnson have suggested the new runway was 'undeliverable' and that legal challenges against the plans could well scupper it.

Mr Johnson said ‘no other city in the world would do this to its inhabitants' and predicted an ‘inevitable fight in the courts’, stating there was not a high chance of success for the proponents of Heathrow's third runway.

Prime minister Theresa May has allowed ministers to vocally oppose the new runway if they have previously made outspoken comments on the issue or have a constituency that is directly affected, but not to 'actively campaign' against the Government's decision.

Where that line is drawn could well be the subject of some debate within the Conservative Party.

Conservative Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, is already set to resign and force a by-election in protest.

Mr Goldsmith's local Conservative association confirmed to the BBC that he would honour his pledge to stand down if the Conservative Government backed Heathrow.

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate, said: 'The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed. Our message today is that Gatwick stands ready to proceed when the time comes.'

He added that Gatwick looked forward 'to studying the full reasons behind the Government decision in detail'.

Elsewhere, local councils have pledged to fight the decision and vowed that the battle is not over.

Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, Windsor and Maidenhead councils together with Greenpeace UK have confirmed they will consider a legal challenge against the decision if viable and said ‘a legal strategy will be developed over the coming days’.

Plans for the airport's expansion were defeated in the courts in 2010, over the issue of climate change.

Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia said: 'It looks like we’re heading back to the courts just as we did in 2010 after the Brown Government backed Heathrow’s third runway. We overturned that decision in the High Court and nothing has changed since then to make expanding this airport any less damaging.'

Friends of the Earth vowed to fight the decision ‘every step of the way’, and its head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said ‘this is only the first step on a long journey that will see communities, councils and climate campaigners continue the battle to reverse this misjudged and damaging decision’.

Labour has set out four tests, which must be met for the Party to support the plans.

They are:

  • That robust and convincing evidence was produced that the Commission’s recommendations would provide sufficient capacity
  • That the UK’s legal climate change obligations could still be met
  • That local noise and environmental impacts can be managed and minimized
  • That the benefits of any expansion were not confined to London and the South East

Andy McDonald MP, shadow transport secretary, said: ‘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.

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Foreign secretary Boris Johnson still opposes Heathrow

‘The Government’s proposals on Heathrow have highlighted the urgent need for a comprehensive transport and infrastructure strategy, which is sadly lacking.’

‘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.’

Professional bodies and the business community largely came down in favour of the decision, even if there were hints that it was a decision, any decision, that they were in favour of.

The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) chief executive, Sue Percy, said: 'CIHT has consistently called for an Integrated Transport Strategy and the need to increase runway capacity in London and the South East.

'High quality international connectivity is vital to the UK’s economic wellbeing. As identified by the Airports Commission, our national hub airport, Heathrow, operates at almost full capacity. This limits the scope for improving connections to new markets in terms of passengers, freight and for UK regional connecting flights, all particularly pertinent in light of Brexit.

'It is now important that government and opposition parties work together to take forward the decision. Continued delay undermines the resilience of the UKs transport networks.'

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) aviation policy group chair Paul Le Blond, said: ‘The end to uncertainty over airports policy is welcomed by logistics and transport professionals, whichever option they supported, but there can be benefits for all parties, who can now take action to ensure that the decision is implemented in the best possible way for all.'

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association's head of external affairs, Marie-Claude Hemming, said she welcomed the ‘long-overdue’ decision: ‘International connectivity is extremely important for the UK economy and it is good news that the Government has now finally committed to the third runway.’

Paul Drechsler CBE, CBI president, said: ‘A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision. This project should form part of a long-term framework for aviation capacity for the whole of the UK.'

The decision also won praise from MPs on the Transport Select Committee.

Chair Louise Ellman MP, commented: ‘After decades of dithering, the decision has been made and it is the right one. The Transport Select Committee has consistently backed the building of a third runway at Heathrow airport, with the package of accompanying measures recommended by the Airports Commission, as the best solution to increasing airport capacity in the south east.

‘Guarantees will need to be met on noise and pollution. We urge the Government to have the courage of their convictions and press ahead so that the timetable to deliver the additional capacity by 2030 can be delivered.’

 

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