Despite last month’s vote by MPs, the expansion of Heathrow faces further obstacles. But, it has to happen for the prosperity of post-Brexit Britain
Late last month, in the latest stage of the ongoing saga that is the UK’s airport expansion, MPs approved a bill that paves the way for Heathrow Airport to get its third runway. Cue the popping of champagne corks and much merriment.
However, the path to expansion is unlikely to have tackled its last obstacle. Almost immediately after approval was given, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, issued a statement saying that he would be mounting a legal challenge – arguing that Gatwick was a more logical place for expansion. Greenpeace said they would be joining him.
But why is the Heathrow expansion such a controversial subject? Let’s look at the figures. Around 78 million people use Heathrow Airport every year. The airport claims it is operating at almost 100 per cent capacity. The third runway – which would cost around £14 billion and be paid for privately – would be a massive infrastructure project, involving small matters like tunnelling off part of London’s orbital motorway, the M25, and building a sixth terminal.
Economically, the decision not to expand Heathrow could have potentially disastrous effects, especially after Brexit. Lord Adonis, the government’s former infrastructure tsar, made the point recently that if Heathrow isn’t expanded new routes to emerging markets won’t be picked up by London’s other airports, such as Gatwick or Stansted, but instead by
Europe’s other leading hubs, such as Amsterdam’s Schiphol or Paris’ Charles de Gaulle.
This should be a real concern for the government. In a post-Brexit Britain the UK will no longer be seen as the gateway to the EU. If the Heathrow expansion doesn’t go ahead, the UK could be reduced to a feeder airport for Europe’s major cities. London needs a world class airport to help bolster the UK’s appeal. Big infrastructure projects like
Crossrail will also help access into central London and ease congestion.
The issue of London airport expansion is a political minefield. Residents living under Heathrow’s flightpath are unsurprisingly against the idea, as are their MPs. Also, depending on where the political climate lies at the time, are the various parties in opposition. Appetite within governments themselves largely depends on how close we are to a general election.
On top of all this, the clock is ticking. If things don’t progress, the Department for Transport has said that London’s airports will reach full capacity by 2034.
If Britain wants to keep up in a post-Brexit world then Heathrow Airport has to get its third runway.