After nearly 20 years of debate, the government has finally approved the controversial plan to construct a third runway at Heathrow airport, despite opposition from campaigners
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said the announcement represented a “historic moment” that indicated the government had a clear vision to build “a Britain fit for the future”.
Announcing £2.6bn in compensation for residents and noise abatement measures he said it would only proceed if air quality obligations were met.
The scheme, Grayling vowed, would be funded entirely privately and while the expansion was a “number of years away”, he believed it could be concluded by 2026.
In a statement to MPs, he said: “Today I’m laying before parliament our final proposal for an airports national policy statement which signals our commitment to securing global connectivity, creating tens of thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships, and boosting our economy for future generations by expanding Heathrow airport.”
MPs will be asked to vote on the expansion plans by 11 July.
The last Labour government supported the Heathrow expansion and won a vote on it in 2009, but that plan was discarded – and the idea of expansion put on hold for five years – by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition formed after the 2010 election.
But the proposal of expansion was resurrected and has since been backed by the Conservatives. Ministers approved a draft national airports policy statement in October setting out the conditions for a new runway, Parliament has yet to give its approval for detailed planning to begin.
Former transport secretary Justine Greening, a leading opponent of the scheme, said: “This decision is not only wrong for the UK and its competitiveness, it’s also wrong for London communities who will be blighted by the pollution from Heathrow.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, also pointed out that there was no reference to “climate change” by the transport secretary during his statement, questioning his commitment to the environment.
Campaigners argue that a new runway will breach the UK’s legal limits on air pollution and increase noise pollution with an extra 700 planes a day.