What are the details of the announcement on Britain’s next runway?
Six years after it overturned plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, the government has announced a renewed expansion of London’s main airport. A cabinet subcommittee of ministers, excluding some notable opponents of Heathrow, met on Tuesday morning and decided to endorse the verdict of the Airports Commission by approving a third runway, rather than choose another shortlisted scheme at Gatwick. The decision will be formally announced by the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, in the House Commons.
What will happen next?
It is likely to be another four to five years before spades are in the ground. The government will launch a public consultation on the local impacts of its decision in the new year, before publishing a national policy statement on aviation. This needs to be ratified by parliamentary vote, either in late 2017 or 2018. This is a quicker process than the parliamentary machinery employed for the HS2 rail line, whose hybrid bill for the first phase is yet to be passed.
So has the government definitely approved a new runway?
This was the key moment, although opponents will now argue that the real decision comes next year with the vote on the national policy statement. Theresa May appears to have dropped any plans for an early parliamentary vote to bolster the government’s hand. Instead, last week she told ministers that they could, for a period of time, continue to air their own reservations against expanding airports – an unusual arrangement allowing known opponents of Heathrow expansion, such as the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and Justine Greening, the education secretary, to stay in the cabinet. Despite the high-profile opposition, Heathrow believes a substantial majority of MPs are in favour of its plan.
What happens next for the planning process?
Heathrow needs to draw up a development consent order, which would include health and environmental impact assessments. A separate review of flight paths and airspace will also take place. The process should see the airport submit applications for planning permission in 2019, with inspectors then recommending it to the secretary of state for communities for final approval in 2020.
Any other bumps in the road?
Heathrow says the timescale takes into account inevitable applications for judicial review. Four local authorities, joined by Greenpeace, have confirmed they will mount a legal challenge. Residents’ action groups and environmental lawyers Client Earth are also set to challenge the process. Defeated Gatwick has said it will stand by in the expectation that any decision for Heathrow will be eventually reversed.
So what is the earliest a runway could be built?
It could be done by 2025, reckons Heathrow. Ministers had previously been more cautious in their timetable, eyeing 2029, but are understood to be keen to speed up development post-Brexit, with Heathrow pledging to find ways to add 25,000 extra flights a year before new infrastructure is completed if planners lift the legal cap.
What benefits will a third runway bring?
According to the Airports Commission, the economic boost could be worth up to £151bn; the government has quoted a more modest £61bn. Both think up to 77,000 additional local jobs will be created over the next 14 years. The number of planes taking off will go up by about 50%, to 740,000 annually. Some believe fares will rise but the government made it clear on Tuesday that the new runway must not make air travel more expensive for passengers. EasyJet has said it will look to operate at Heathrow, bringing low-fare competition to British Airways.
What about the noise and pollution?
Good question. Heathrow’s claims that noise from the airport will affect fewer people rely on technical definitions of disturbance as well as the promise of quieter planes. But locals are not convinced that planes such as the A380 really disturb them much less – and cumulatively, hundreds of thousands of new planes can only add to the noise. New communities will be under the flight path – up to 200,000 more people will be overflown. Air quality around Heathrow, which has broken legal limits, may be mitigated by plans for congestion charging and better public transport, but it will be difficult to improve with tens of millions more passengers a year travelling via the airport.