Transport secretary hails "historic day" as ministers approve third runway at Heathrow

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has hailed a “historic day” for the country as the plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport moved a step closer after being approved by ministers.

The government's economic sub-committee, chaired by prime minister Theresa May, backed the plans on 5 June which were then approved by the full cabinet. The cabinet backing will now most likely trigger a final vote in parliament within weeks. 

Grayling hailed the decision as a "historic moment" and said “the time for action is now” with the UK being one of the largest aviation sectors in the world. 

Speaking to MPs, he said: “Heathrow is already full and the evidence shows the remaining London airports won’t be far behind. Despite being the busiest two-runway airport in the world, Heathrow’s capacity constraints mean it is falling behind its global competitors – impacting the UK’s economy and global trading opportunities. Expansion at Heathrow will bring real benefits across the country including a boost of up to £74bn to passengers and the wider economy, providing better connections to growing world markets, and increasing flights to more long haul destinations.”

Grayling also announced £2.6bn in compensation for residents and noise abatement measures, while the runway would only proceed if air quality obligations were met.

Commenting on expansion plans, a Heathrow spokesman said: “The government is best-placed to comment on their timetables. What is clear is that the case for expanding Heathrow has never been stronger. We’re looking forward to the promised parliamentary vote on the final national policy statement before the summer recess enabling us to get on with delivering this critical project.”

Richard Robinson, chief executive of civil infrastructure in Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at AECOM, said: “We’re extremely pleased to hear that the Cabinet has formally approved plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport, we believe this is the right decision for the UK and we now call on the rest of Westminster to back the scheme when it goes to the Commons later this month. The focus now must be on accelerating delivery. Quickly securing the right legal mandate via the necessary environmental and planning approvals is crucial. At AECOM we understand the value of connected expertise to solve the world’s most complex problems and our global aviation team can bring unique and unrivalled expertise to such a project from the outset. We now look forward to engaging more in the scheme and sharing our skills, capabilities and best practice.”

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) is now urging MPs to vote for its approval, citing the urgent need to address a lack of capacity at the UK’s airports.

CECA director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “Addressing the UK’s lack of aviation capacity will be crucial to ensuring the health of the UK economy, particularly after we leave the European Union next year. The UK loses nearly £1.2bn per annum because of a shortfall in airport capacity, and the urgency of addressing this situation has only become more acute since the Brexit vote. Aviation is key to the UK’s economic growth and is crucial in ensuring the UK remains an attractive place to do business and to visit.”

But opponents to the plans have lambasted the announcement claiming that noise levels will be increased sustainably for nearby residents wile air quality limits will be breached. John Stewart, chair of the campaign group Hacan, said communities would "face a tsunami of noise" with a third runway. "This is a bad day - many people under new flight paths will find their lives changed forever," he added.

The Aviation Environment Federation has also hit out at the decision, claiming the government had "buried the truth" and that the runway would cause "unavoidable environmental damage" with little economic benefit to the UK.

Labour’s position on a third runway remains unclear but it’s believed scores of the party’s MPs are in favour of expansion. Responding to the government’s announcement, the shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the party would assess the plans in accordance with its four-stage test; that it will meet the UK’s capacity demands, it will not breach noise and air pollution obligations, it will allow the UK to meet its climate change targets in their entirety and support growth across the whole country. 

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