Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has told the Commons the Cabinet has given its consent to the £16bn project and now MPs will be asked to give the final green light. Tony McDonough reports
Heathrow Airport’s plans for a £16bn third runway have been given the final go-ahead by the Government – a decision that could boost the Liverpool city region economy by billions of pounds.
Despite opposition from the public, environmental groups and MPs on both sides of Parliament, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons on Tuesday the project was being given a green light.
The final hurdle for the scheme now is a full vote of the House and Mr Grayling warned that if they didn’t vote in favour the there was no plan B for increasing airport capacity in the South East of England.
There has been strong support for the runway plan in Merseyside. Last year Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said: “Congestion and limited capacity at Heathrow is not only stifling the economic growth of London and the South East, it is impacting on every region and city region.”
In order to gain support from the UK regions for its third runway plan, Heathrow has offered a £10m development fund to support regional air routes and valuable landing slots will be ringfenced for that purpose.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) has long coveted a hub link to Heathrow that would give passengers seamless access to the global route network. Attempts at hub connections from Liverpool via Amsterdam and Dublin have ultimately proved unsuccessful.
In March the new chief executive of LJLA, John Irving, said the airport planned to invest £100m between now and 2030, growing annual passenger numbers from 5m to 8m, pushing up GVA contribution to £625m and supporting 12,000 jobs.
Across the North West is has been estimated that, over the next decade, the the new third runway could help could see the creation of 15,300 jobs and boost the region’s economy by £12.5bn.
Cammell Laird and the Port of Liverpool are both on the shortlist as possible pre-assembly hubs for the construction phase of the third runway.
Mr Grayling’s announcement was the culmination of a years of delays and protests. Other alternatives were put forward including expansion at Gatwick and a grandiose plan by the now Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to build a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
Mr Grayling said the Government’s decision was an “historic moment”. He added: “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.”
However, winning the vote in Parliament, which has to take place within 21 working days, may not be straightforward, even if the Government implemented a three-line whip as a number of Tory MPs are dead set against the runway.
They include Boris Johnson and the Member for Richmond Park Zac Goldsmith. Environmentalist Mr Goldsmith resigned his seat in 2016 in protest at the Government’s backing for the third runway.
In the subsequent by-election he stood as an independent and lost to the Liberal Democrats but rejoined the Conservatives before the 2017 General Election and regained the seat for the party.
If enough Tory MPs rebel over the issue then the Government may need the support of both Labour and the SNP. Labour has previously offered tentative support for the third runway and has set four tests.
These are: evidence that the runway will provide the necessary extra capacity; an assurance it won’t damage the UK’s commitment to reduce CO2 emissions; minimising local noise and environmental impacts; and ensuring all regions of the UK reap the economic benefits.
However, the party’s biggest backers – the trade unions – are strongly in favour of the expansion of Heathrow and the extra jobs it will bring.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said on Tuesday: “Heathrow expansion, one of the biggest construction projects in Europe, answers the demands of many Unite members across the UK – for more skilled, well-paid and sustainable jobs. Expansion will deliver these jobs and growth to every nation and region of the UK.”