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How Will Theresa May Handle the UK’s Aviation Expansion?

  • David
  • 11 Oct 2016
  • Infrastructure

The debate over whether to grant London’s Heathrow Airport a third runway has been ongoing since Tony Blair’s administration proposed the idea in 2003. In 2012, the Airports Commission was established to analyse the potential expansion schemes and deliver recommendations on the best method to expand London’s aviation.

The commission closed in July 2015 after they published their recommendations and now Theresa May’s government is expected to make a decision within the next 6 weeks.

In their report, the Airports Commission recognised that expanded airport capacity would be crucial to the long-term prosperity of the UK and concluded that a third runway at Heathrow was the most effective way to do so:

“The proposal for a new northwest runway at Heathrow Airport, combined with a significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts, presents the strongest case and offers the greatest strategic and economic benefits”

The benefits they referred to in their report was the provision of approximately 40 new destinations and the creation of over 70,000 new jobs by 2050.

Proposals for an extra runway have been torn between using Heathrow or Gatwick airports, but now it seems that Heathrow is looking like the winning option with two-thirds of Conservative and Labour MPs backing the plans.

However, over the years there has been a strong opposition to the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Most planes heading into Heathrow have to do so over residential areas of London; leaving millions of residents affected by noise, traffic and pollution.

The decision itself is causing a rift within Theresa May’s own constituency as Windsor and Maidenhead council have pledged to take legal action if the government decides to back the expansion of Heathrow as anticipated.

The council have also joined with Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames and Hillingdon to prepare for a legal battle. Councillor Simon Dudley, Head of Windsor and Maidenhead council, has promised constituents he will battle the decision, saying:

“We are going to protect our residents irrespective of who the Prime Minister is”

Noise and a general increase in pollution was considered by the Airports Commission who listed strong measures to ensure that the third runway would maximise global connectivity, while reducing the number of people affected by the expansion. These recommendations included:

  • Banning night flights between 11.30pm and 6am (this is only possible through expansion.)
  • A firm commitment from the government to no further expansions of Heathrow.
  • Putting strong limits on the level of noise created by the airport.
  • A new levy to fund a mitigation programme helping develop noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities.
  • Provision of training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people to ensure that the local community can benefit from extra jobs and economic benefits.

The government still plan to deliver the expansion by 2030. However, Theresa May has commented that her approach was going to allow her government to carefully examine all the evidence presented to her before committing to one plan. The Prime Minister has also refused to rule out the possibility of new runways at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Having already given Hinkley Point C the green light to go ahead, the PM is showing that she is ready to be decisive over infrastructural projects across the UK. The debate for aviation expansion has been passed through many different governments but may now be about to reach its conclusion with Theresa May expected to announce a third runway for Heathrow within the next few weeks.

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