News & Current Affairs

January 15, 2009

Go-ahead for new Heathrow runway

Go-ahead for new Heathrow runway

The government has given the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow, saying it is the “right” move for the country.

The decision, confirmed by Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, comes despite opposition from environmentalists, local residents and many MPs.

Mr Hoon outlined measures to limit noise and emissions but told MPs doing nothing would “damage our economy”.

The debate was halted and local MP John McDonnell thrown out after he grabbed the mace and shouted “disgrace”.

Alongside the commitment to a new runway, Mr Hoon also announced increased investment in public transport, including the possibility of new high-speed rail links from the airport.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
MPs told of decision
Planning process begins – this will take years
Legal challenge likely in days
If Tories win next election they would scrap plan
If all goes according to government plan, construction would start in 2015
Third runway due to finish 2019

In an effort to appease critics he said airlines using the new runway would be required to use the newest, least-polluting aircraft.

He told MPs the government was satisfied environmental targets could be met, as it would put an initial cap on additional flights from the new runway of 125,000, would ensure new slots were “green slots” used by only the “cleanest planes” and would set a new target on aircraft emissions – that they would be lower in 2050 than in 2005.

“Taken together this gives us the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world,” he told MPs.

He also announced he would set up a company to look into creating a high speed rail line between London and Scotland – adding there was a “strong case” for a new high speed rail hub at Heathrow.

Heathrow ‘hub’

And he said hard shoulders could be used to ease traffic on the the most congested parts of the M1, M25, M6, M62, M3 and M4, as well as motorways around Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

But he ruled out ending “mixed mode” use of runways – where planes land on one runway until 3pm then the other for the rest of the day to give residents a break from noise.

However, he said the Cranford agreement, which limits planes taking off to the east of the airport, would end, which he said would benefit Windsor and other towns to the west of the airport and Hatton and North Feltham to the east.

“Heathrow is the only hub airport, it’s our most important international gateway, it connects us with the growth markets of the future – essential for every great trading nation,” he told MPs.

Doing nothing would only give an advantage to its competitors, he said, adding: “The government is taking the right decisions for the long term.”

The debate was halted when John McDonnell, whose constituency borders Sipson – where hundreds of homes will be bulldozed to make way for a third runway and sixth terminal – shouted “disgrace” as the transport secretary said MPs would not get a vote on the decision.

Labour unease

After marching from the backbenches to the despatch box he picked up the mace and placed it on an MPs’ bench – he refused requests to end his protest and was ordered out of the Commons and suspended for a week.

The government has long argued, in principle, that it is in favour of the scheme, subject to pollution limits and access concerns.

But there has been deep unease within Labour ranks about the decision, with several cabinet members reported to be unconvinced and more than 50 MPs openly opposed.

At a press conference in Berlin ahead of the Commons statement, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he wanted to “protect the economic future of the country while, at the same time, meeting the very tough environmental conditions we have set ourselves”.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers told BBC Radio 4’s Today any government environmental promises would be shown “to not be worth the paper they are written on” and said her party would cancel the project if they win the next general election.

In the Commons she said: “This is a bleak day for our environment and for all those of us who care about safeguarding it.”

The Liberal Democrats also oppose the third runway and have urged ministers to invest in high-speed rail links instead.

Their spokeswoman, Susan Kramer, told the BBC the arguments in favour of expansion were “glib” and south west London would become a “pretty miserable” place to live.

“There’s this conventional wisdom amongst business that you must grow the airport … it just isn’t held up by the reality. Actually Heathrow has been serving fewer destinations over the last ten years.”

The statement to MPs – it is not subject to a vote in the Commons – marks the start of the planning process which would be a lengthy one, even without the opposition and legal challenges expected.

Work on a new runway is unlikely to start until 2015 and it is not expected to be operational for at least a decade.

About 700 homes will have to be demolished to make way for the runway, which will increase the number of flights using Heathrow from about 480,000 a year now to 702,000 by 2030.

‘At risk’

Campaigners have bought some land earmarked for the construction of the runway in an effort to frustrate the expansion plans.

Environmental campaigners say proceeding with the new runway will leave the government’s legal commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 in tatters.

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband told the the plans represented “constrained expansion” with strict rules on air quality and noise.

But Greenpeace director John Sauven said: “If Gordon Brown thinks this is a green runway then he must be colour-blind. This package is designed to patch up a cabinet split and will do very little to reduce the huge environmental impact of an expanded Heathrow, which will now become the single biggest emitter of carbon-dioxide in the country.”

Supporters of the runway say Heathrow is already operating at full capacity and the UK economy will lose business to the rest of Europe if it does not go ahead.

They point out that rival airports such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam already have at least four runways and that Heathrow is at risk of falling further behind.

Former Labour MP Lord Soley, campaign director of Future Heathrow, which represents groups in favour of expanding the airport said Heathrow brought jobs and “prosperity” to west London and the Thames Valley that was “at risk”.

The boss of British Airways, Willie Walsh, said he was “very pleased” by the decision and welcomed the fact the scheme would be subject to “very strict environmental conditions”.

Virgin Atlantic’s Paul Charles told BBC Radio 5 Live that if there was no third runway “jobs won’t be created and people will go to Europe instead”.

Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “This approach to expanding Heathrow’s capacity makes real sense. It will create the integrated transport system necessary for an economy that needs to grow in an environmentally sustainable fashion.”


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