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Government approves third runway at Heathrow as 2017 consultation prepared

The government has given its backing to a third runway at Heathrow, the first new full-length runway in the South-east since the Second World War.

The scheme will now be taken forward in the form of a draft National Policy Statement for consultation in 2017.

Ministers approved the third runway at a Cabinet committee meeting earlier today.

In a statement, the government said: “Following the clear recommendation of the Airports Commission, the government conducted more work on the environmental impact.

“That work is now complete and confirms that a new runway at Heathrow is deliverable within air quality limits, if necessary mitigation measures are put in place, in line with the ‘National air quality plan’, published in December 2015.”

The committee was expected to hear from vociferous opponents to Heathrow expansion including foreign secretary Boris Johnson and education secretary Justine Greening.

Mr Johnson told the BBC: ”What I worry about is that down the line, if a third runway were to be built, there would be an overwhelming clamour to build a fourth runway.

“And then what would London look like? You would have New York the city of beautiful skyscrapers; Paris the city of light; and London, the city of planes - is that really what we want for our fantastic capital city?”

He added: “My view is the whole proceeding will be snarled up in legal objections of one kind or another.”

Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith, an opponent of Heathrow expansion, has expressed his intention to resign already following the decision.

The move will trigger a by-election for his seat.

Heathrow is now expected to be asked for ways to reduce costs and the timescale of the work to build the new runway.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: ”This is an important issue for the whole country. That is why the government’s preferred scheme will be subject to full and fair public consultation.

“Of course it is also hugely important for those living near the airport. That is why 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 £2.6bn, including community support, insulation and respite from noise – balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion.”

A Heathrow spokesman said: “We await the full details, but Heathrow stands ready to work with government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK.”

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate, said“We are disappointed as we do not believe this is the right answer for Britain. 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. We look forward to studying the full reasons behind the Government decision in detail.

 “The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed. Our message today is that Gatwick stands ready to proceed when the time comes.”

Next steps

The government will set out the airport scheme it wants, along with supporting evidence, in its NPS.

The public and MPs will be consulted and there will be a vote in the House of Commons.

This will be followed by a planning application by the airport to the Planning Inspector who will take a view and advise government of his decision.

Final sign-off will be made by the transport secretary, allowing construction to start.

Al Watson, head of planning & environment at Taylor Wessing said: “At least we have a decision – a decision which at the moment seems to have only some form of measured support from airlines at Heathrow Airport who pay for the infrastructure.

”The decision is the preferred option; so the master planning exercise and consultation and refinement of ideas around public transport, air quality and noise will still need to be refined by Government over the next 12-15 months, or as long as it reasonably takes.

“Throw in the likely (and loud) legal challenges and it looks and feels like 18 months until the government’s policy position is established. Then the work begins on the application for consent, so another two years of work perhaps more.”

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In September, it emerged the airport was working on plans to save £3bn from its proposals by considering options including dropping the original plan to build a 14-lane section of the M25 running through a 600 m tunnel under the new runway in favour of a cheaper and quicker alternative.

Heathrow estimates the cost of the new third runway to be £15.6bn, while the Airports Commission has estimated its cost at £17.6bn including the M25 transit projects.

Gatwick estimates its new runway would cost £7.4bn, while the Airports Commission says it would cost £9.3bn.

Gatwick Airport’s development director Ray Melee told the Construction News Summit earlier this month that the airport would press ahead with expansion, regardless of the government’s preferred option for a new runway.

An article on prime minister Theresa May’s constituency website in which she spoke out against Heathrow expansion also emerged this week, having been removed from the site last year.

Speaking in 2009, Mrs May said: “A third runway will result in thousands of additional flights, increased noise and more pollution for thousands of people. We need a better Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow.”

The chair of the environmental audit committee Mary Creagh MP said the committee would be seeking assurances from the government that any new airport capacity will comply with key environmental conditions.

Construction of the new runway is not expected to start for several years, with a consultation period followed by vote in the House of Commons expected to take a year or more.


Jason Millett, COO for major programmes and infrastructure at Mace:

“This is fantastic news for the UK. Not only will Heathrow’s third runway mean an estimated £211bn boost of additional business and trade for the UK, but it will also create 180,000 skilled jobs across the country. The project’s skills legacy will benefit young people and our industry for generations. 

“We have been working with Heathrow to develop a robust timetable for delivery to get spades in the ground as quickly as possible, giving a boost to the economy and international trade.”

Paul Sheffield, managing director, Laing O’Rourke:

“We are thrilled the government has thrown its support behind Heathrow expansion. Today’s decision paves the way for delivering this much needed infrastructure project.

“It is now time to get on and build a third runway, creating jobs across the construction industry and unlocking opportunities up and down the UK’s supply chain.”  

Liz Jenkins, infrastructure partner at Clyde & Co:

“Today’s announcement is a something of a false dawn. The year-long period before the government puts its decision to a vote of parliament seems excessive and likely to cause further delay.  

“With airport capacity already under pressure, given the year-long parliamentary debate to come, likely delays and legal challenges, together with the time taken to reach this decision thus far there is a very strong argument for giving the green light to more than one airport.”

Amanda Clack, head of infrastructure advisory at EY: 

 “Although long overdue, today’s decision is a milestone. It strengthens Heathrow’s place as an international hub for air travel and ensures that London will remain a gateway to Europe and the rest of the world. 

“However, in the longer term the UK will need even more capacity. The parallel expansion of Gatwick and other key regional airports should not be ruled out if the UK is to maintain its attractiveness in the eyes of international travellers.”  

Paul Drechsler, president, CBI:

“A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision. It will create the air links that will do so much to drive jobs and unlock growth across the UK, allowing even more of our innovative, ambitious and internationally focussed firms, from Bristol to Belfast, to take off and break into new markets.

“With contracts to tender for, apprentices to recruit and supply chains to build, this decision must be taken forward swiftly, giving businesses the confidence to invest. Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible to reap the benefits for jobs and growth, precisely when the country needs them most.

Sir George Iacobescu, chairman and chief executive of Canary Wharf Group:

“It is welcome news that Heathrow will now be able to expand to serve more destinations. When Crossrail opens in just over two years’ time people will be able to get from London’s hub airport to Canary Wharf in just 39 minutes.”

“This decision shows the government is serious about the UK and London being open for business, we look forward to a detailed delivery plan bringing the new capacity as soon as possible.”

Tony Arbour, chairman of the London Assembly:

“We are appalled that the government has decided to give the green light to expansion at Heathrow, despite the vast body of evidence to indicate this will expose Londoners to higher levels of deadly air pollution, intolerable noise and overwhelming congestion. 

“Also, the need for investment in public transport access for passengers and staff will be substantial in order to keep London’s transport network working. The government has not yet provided nearly enough clarity on whether this investment will be delivered.”

Ravi Govindia, Wandsworth council leader: 

“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.”

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London:

“Heathrow already exposes more people to aircraft noise than Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid combined. A third runway would mean an extra 200,000 people impacted, exposing 124 more schools and 43,200 more schoolchildren to an unacceptable level of noise.

“An expanded Gatwick would have boosted our economy without causing these huge air and noise pollution problems and it could be built quicker and cheaper. 

“I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months.”

Lord Adonis, interim chair of the National Infrastructure Commission: 

“In the time the UK has been considering a third runway all of our major European competitors have delivered increased capacity and are today benefiting from the new routes to emerging markets that come with it. 

“If the UK is to deliver world leading infrastructure this culture of dither and delay must come to an end. We must replace years of political deadlock with clear eyed analysis, long-term planning and strategic decision making.”

Michael O’Callaghan, Kier Construction director and aviation sector lead:

“Only yesterday Sir Howard Davies highlighted a need for a second runway in Birmingham as HS2 is progressed, and as our international gateway capacity in the South-east is expanded we are likely to see an increase in domestic demand.

“And he is not the only commentator calling for greater expansion, as Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary has long pointed to a need for three new runways in the South-east of England, not just one. Gatwick are likely to use this argument having put great effort into developing their plans for a new runway too, so we may yet see a parallel aviation expansion programme in the South-east of England.”

Richard Robinson, chief executive – civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, Aecom:

“The focus now must be on accelerating delivery. Quickly securing the right legal mandate via the necessary environmental and planning approvals is vital.” 

Jason Brooks, UK head of aviation at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff:

“As with Hinkley, the biggest boost this provides to the construction industry is our confidence. Our business plans and recruitment drive can continue with conviction. However, this should be seen as just the first step to increasing airport capacity in the South-east.

The strategic importance and growth potential of London Gatwick remains critical, we also need a new runway there too in due course, for the UK to be able to maintain its position as a leading global aviation player and economic powerhouse.”

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