Government Delays Decision On Heathrow Expansion

Six month postponement for further environmental study

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The Government's long awaited decision on whether Heathrow Airport should have a third runway has been postponed for six months for further research on the environmental impact.

The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said tonight the government would "continue to work on all shortlisted locations". It is now expected that a government decision could be made in the summer of 2016

Speculation had mounted in recent days that the final decision would be delayed until after the London Mayoral election next May - the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith is an opponent of a third runway and a pro-expansion decision would have caused a politically difficult situation. However Mr Goldsmith denied that there was any "deal" on the issue.

Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, was quoted on the BBC as saying London would not forgive Cameron "if he postpones the decision simply to spare Mr Goldsmith's 'embarrassment' during the election campaign".

The recent report by the influential Environmental Audit Committee which said that a third runway should not go ahead at Heathrow until strict environmental conditions were met, has, according to anti-expansion group HACAN, given David Cameron an excuse to play for time to delay the final decision. The Davies Commission (on airport expansion), which recommended a third runway at Heathrow, was described as "strong" but Mr. Cameron said more work needed to be done.

The Environmental Audit Committee report wanted to see proof that the Government has clear policies in place to show it could meet the climate change recommendations in the Airports Commission report, and that Heathrow Airport commits to paying for the associated road and rail infrastructure and agrees to a ban on night flights.

The decision was criticised by Willie Walsh, CEO of the International Airlines Group, who said talk of further delays showed the government had no political will for a third runway.

Justine Greening, MP for Putney, Southfields and Roehampton, released a statement following the announcement. 'In its response to the Airports Commission, the Government has confirmed that further work is required on the environmental aspects of airport expansion in the south east. Justine has consistently represented her constituents, and our local concerns, on aircraft noise and pollution.'

Ms Greening said, “This is a sensible decision which hopefully means that important environmental issues around noise, pollution and carbon will get the proper scrutiny they need. As that work gets underway, I will continue to work with my local community to ensure that the impact aircraft noise has on us is clearly understood and that we can feed our views in.”

A recent poll released this week suggested Londoners back expansion at Gatwick. The YouGov poll found that Londoners would prefer Gatwick rather than Heathrow to get an extra runway by 44 per cent to 33. Gatwick was seen as cheaper and less harmful in terms of noise and pollution.

Opposition to a third runway had grown more vociferous in recent weeks, with protests outside Parliament and shouted reminders of the Prime Minister's 2009 pledge "No Ifs, No Buts, No Third Runway". It has been claimed that a third runway would see 320,000 residents affected by aircraft noise who have never been overflown before.

Locals under the flight path in south and west London have said that the potential for extra noise, air pollution and traffic congestion from a third runway at Heathrow would far outweigh the jobs and business attracted by expansion. Local councils, including Kingston, Croydon and Wandsworth had also joined together to oppose expansion. Hounslow Council has said it wants a "better not bigger " airport, but acknowledged it would bring jobs to the area.

It has been claimed that Heathrow’s third runway would see 320,000 residents affected by aircraft noise who have never been overflown before.

The cost of a third runway is estimated at £17.6 billion.

December 15, 2015

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