Government says yes to Heathrow but no spades in the ground just yet

The government has finally given its backing for a third runway at Heathrow, the first full length runway in the south-east since the second world war. Announcing the decision today, the Department for Transport said that the scheme would be taken forward in the form of a draft ‘National policy statement’ (NPS) for public consultation in the New Year.

Commenting on the announcement, transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “The step that government is taking today is truly momentous. I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the UK’s place in the global aviation market – securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.

“A new runway at Heathrow will improve connectivity in the UK itself and crucially boost our connections with the rest of the world, supporting exports, trade and job opportunities. This isn’t just a great deal for business, it’s a great deal for passengers who will also benefit from access to more airlines, destinations and flights.”

"The step that government is taking today is truly momentous. After years of discussion and delay we are taking decisive action to secure the UK's place in the global aviation market. A new runway at Heathrow will improve connectivity in the UK and crucially boost our connections with the rest of the world, supporting exports, trade and job opportunities."

Transport secretary, Chris Grayling MP

Acknowledging the controversial nature of Heathrow expansion, Grayling was keen to stress that the government’s preferred scheme will now be subject to a rigorous public consultation. “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,” said Grayling.

Expansion at the airport will better connect the UK to long haul destinations across the globe and to growing world markets including in Asia and South America, bringing a significant boost to trade say the government. The new runway at Heathrow will also bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61bn. Up to 77,000 additional local jobs are expected to be created over the next 14 years and the airport has committed to create 5,000 new apprenticeships over the same period.

Expansion costs will be paid for by the private sector, not by the taxpayer. It will be for the Civil Aviation Authority, as the independent industry regulator, to work with Heathrow Airport Ltd and airlines operating at the airport, on the detailed design and costs to ensure the scheme remains affordable. The government expects the industry to work together to drive down costs to benefit passengers and they say the aim should be to deliver a plan for expansion that keeps landing charges close to current levels.

The third runway will also support new connections to the UK’s regions as well as safeguarding existing domestic routes. Heathrow has proposed a further six new routes to Belfast International, Liverpool, Newquay, Humberside, Prestwick and Durham Tees Valley to be added after expansion. The eight existing routes offered today are: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Belfast City, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds Bradford. This would provide 14 domestic routes in total, and spread benefits right across the country.

The industry welcomed the decision to expand Heathrow. Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE chief executive of ACE, said: “It is good to see that the government has finally come to a decision on the issue of aviation capacity in the south east, after the Davies Commission finally put to rest the debate about whether extra space at the region’s airports was required. The professional engineering and construction sector can now begin to work with clients to develop the supply chain, allocate the resources, and develop the workforce vital to delivering this strategically important investment project.

"That we have taken this long to arrive at the same decision taken by previous politicians over the past decade and a half is disappointing. It indicates a continued issue of uncertainty in the political process around large-scale infrastructure projects. The delay we have seen over this issue has cost the UK economy billions of pounds in inward investment."
Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive, ACE

“That we have taken this long to arrive at the same decision taken by previous politicians over the past decade and a half is disappointing, however, and indicates a continued issue around uncertainty in the political process around large-scale infrastructure investment projects. The delay we have seen over this issue has cost the UK economy billions of pounds in inward investment, and at a time when we need to be highlighting that Britain is open for business to the world, this is clearly unacceptable and should be avoided in future. 

“We hope the government learns the lessons from this and puts measures in place to ensure that much needed infrastructure decisions are not held up by political fluctuations.”

Jason Brooks, UK head of aviation at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff said: “It’s a monumental decision that the government has decided to progress with Heathrow as a full length runway and laid to rest much of the debates of previous years. It’s a landmark moment for UK aviation that we are rightly celebrating. 

“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.

“The building of a third runway will provide enormous logistical, engineering and environmental challenges. We know sustainability will rightly play a crucial role for the duration and legacy of its construction. The industry’s response should be to seize the opportunity, continue working hard to attract the best and the brightest minds, and use this platform to become the world leader for major infrastructure design.”

Commenting on the forthcoming consultation process, which is likely to be lengthy and drawn out by Heathrow’s opponents, Brooks said: “It’s important that due process is gone through to make sure that the evaluation and the scheme as implemented is correct. I’m hoping that this time around that the government and Heathrow Airport and any other stakeholders involved will ensure that we get through that process as correctly and as quickly as possible so that it leads to the implementation of a much needed project.”

Brooks also looked ahead to the Heathrow decision signalling further airport expansion. “Whilst we fully endorse expansion at Heathrow we very much hope that expansion at Gatwick and potentially other airports in England and the wider UK won’t be forgotten about because further expansion in other airport locations may well be needed in the future in order to provide the full capacity for movement of goods and people that UK will require,” he said.

Brooks also said that the Heathrow decision should bode well for further infrastructure announcements from the government. “I see projects like a third runway at Heathrow, Hinkley Point and other major infrastructure projects as a real vote of confidence in the construction industry and the role it has to play in the future growth of the UK. I think it’s going to present some challenges for the engineering and construction industry but those are challenges that the UK industry is more than capable of rising to. The UK hasn’t built a new runway in the south east for a very long time, but the good news is that UK businesses like our own have been involved in major airport schemes around the world in the recent period so we have an industry that is superbly placed to build Heathrow’s new runway,” said Brooks.

Turner & Townsend were project managers of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and the new Terminal 2. Vincent Clancy, CEO of Turner & Townsend, said: “The announcement is the right decision for the right reasons. The government’s backing of a third runway is both a testament to Heathrow’s economic importance and an investment in UK Plc. The decision will give a shot in the arm to Britain’s construction industry and create thousands of jobs as the delivery phase begins. But the long-term economic prize is likely to be the huge trade potential that will be unlocked by Heathrow’s extra capacity.

“Heathrow’s business case has been successfully made. But now it must be successfully delivered. The challenge for Britain’s construction industry is clear – together we must ensure that the third runway cements Heathrow’s position as the world-class, sustainable hub airport that the UK needs, and that global airlines demand.

“Turner & Townsend has successfully delivered airport programmes in more than 20 countries, and we are proud of our long-standing partnership with Heathrow - which stretches back to our work delivering Terminal 5. In March we were appointed as a programme client partner for the next phase of the airport’s expansion, and we look forward to supporting Heathrow at this crucial stage in its journey, said Clancy”

"Projects like a third runway at Heathrow, Hinkley Point and other major infrastructure projects are a real vote of confidence in the construction industry and the role it has to play in the future growth of the UK. Heathrow will present some challenges for us but they are challenges that the UK industry is more than capable of rising to."

Jason Brooks, head of aviation, WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff

Richard Robinson, chief executive, civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa at AECOM said: “This is the right decision, not a moment too soon. As the UK prepares for post-Brexit scenarios, decisive action to increase aviation capacity where it is most needed is all the more critical. Giving Heathrow the green light for a third runway will enable the UK to be more outward-facing and better positioned to compete on the global stage.

“This is a welcome fillip for the UK’s infrastructure sector and the businesses that rely on it. The collective sigh of relief following today’s long-awaited decision is almost audible. The focus now must be on accelerating delivery. Quickly securing the right legal mandate via the necessary environmental and planning approvals is vital.”

Atkins’ UK & Europe CEO Nick Roberts commented: "it is a positive statement of intent that the country is open for business and a further indication of the government's commitment to developing the infrastructure we need to be a world-leading economy. The focus for government must now be to build on the work of the Airports Commission and develop the national policy statement that both underpins expansion at Heathrow and supports aviation more widely across the UK. In the meantime industry can press ahead with the planning needed to deliver the extra capacity quickly, efficiently, considerately and with minimum disruption. We look forward to continuing our long working relationship with Heathrow Airport during the planning, development and operation of the expanded airport.”

Nick Baveystock, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers commented: “The decision provides a huge boost to UK Plc at a time of uncertainty. If the UK is to have a 21st century transport network that enables balanced economic growth, thriving communities and health and wellbeing, the decision on aviation needs to address the connectivity throughout the UK plus air quality and noise issues. The benefits of such transformational projects will only be realised with this integrated approach.

“The use of an independent, evidence-based review has led to this decision. This underlines the importance of the ICE’s National Needs Assessment, the National Infrastructure Commission and the work it will do to provide government with such advice and evidence.”

Amanda Clack, head of infrastructure at EY, said: “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.”  

Chris Selway, head of the national infrastructure and compulsory purchase team at BNP Paribas Real Estate, said: “At long last we have a decision on airport expansion and the government is to be congratulated on getting the timing back on track for delivery by 2030. With a scheme of this magnitude the local impact is going to be immense and extremely sensitive – up there with HS2! 

“In providing the necessary infrastructure and facilities to cope with the development there is much to be done in terms of further consultation and provision of mitigating works and compensation packages commensurate with the years of disruption local communities will endure for the greater good. Forward funding of land acquisition and provisions for hardship cases are major priorities.”

Grahame Carter, operations director at engineering recruitment specialist Matchtech said:  “The expansion of Heathrow will inject a great sense of confidence into the infrastructure sector. There is a substantial pre-existing talent pool in the UK, particularly within the buildings and highways sectors, and this coupled with transferable skills from other infrastructure markets as well as the upskilling of existing workforces means we are well prepared to deliver this flagship aviation project.

“While we are well prepared within the UK, the scale of the Heathrow expansion will inevitably call for skilled professionals from overseas. Depending on the nature of the UK’s departure from the European Union, we may face challenges importing qualified engineers, which would significantly narrow the talent pool available for this scheme.”

Political reaction to the decision was swift. Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said that Labour recognised the need for airport expansion in the south east of England and welcomed that a decision has been made. However, he also called for the National Infrastructure Commission “to examine road and rail needs of airports outside the south east” and also called for “better connectivity” to Stansted and Luton airports.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan confirmed that he was looking at how to support a legal challenge to the third runway at Heathrow. “This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain,” he said. Khan, who is a supporter of a new runway at Gatwick, said that the government now had to set out how it will limit the extra air and noise pollution from Heathrow.

"This is the wronmg decision for London and the wrong decision for the whole of Britain."

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, whose Hayes and Harlington constituency is close to Heathrow, called the decision “devastating” and said that for 30 years Heathrow had failed to win the argument for expansion and that was still the case today. “I’ll continue to support my constituents in campaigning against this runway so that it never sees the light of day,” he said.

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, which is under the Heathrow flight path and who has previously threatened to resign and run for re-election as an independent MP if the government approves a third runway, said that the decision was catastrophic and he was consulting with his local constituency party before making an announcement on his future.

Theresa Villiers, the former transport minister and MP for Chipping Barnet, said Heathrow expansion would be a disaster. “I am opposed because it would have a huge negative environmental impact on millions of people, but also because it's undeliverable because of the political opposition, because of the legal problems around meeting air quality, and also there is much better alternative - and that's building a second runway at Gatwick."

The draft NPS setting out why the government believes the Heathrow scheme is the right one for the UK will be published in the New Year when the public will also be consulted on the proposals. Only when MPs have voted on it will Heathrow be able to bring forward a planning application, said Chris Grayling speaking in Parliament. “If we do nothing the cost to our nation will be significant,” he warned MPs.

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