MPs approve Heathrow’s third runway plan – but further hurdles lie ahead

Liverpool city region is hoping for a multi-billion pound boost from the £16bn project but Heathrow is likely to face a number of legal challenges from local councils and campaigners. Tony McDonough reports

MPs have approved a third runway for Heathrow. Picture by David Dyson


MPs have backed £16bn plans for a third runway at Heathrow – potentially offering a huge economic boost to the Liverpool city region.

However, the decision is likely to face a judicial challenge from local councils and campaigners living close to the airport, environmental groups and London Mayor Sadiq Khan who believes the resultant noise and pollution would be detrimental to the quality of life in the capital.

Currently, work is due to begin in 2021 and finish by 2026 but it is likely that timetable could slip. The final vote in the Commons on Monday night saw MPs vote 415 to 119 in favour of the Heathrow expansion.

Party divisions

The Conservative Government was officially in favour of the expansion and implemented a three-line whip. But a number of Tory MPs, particularly those with constituencies close to Heathrow rebelled and voted against the proposal.

One Minister, Greg Hands, quit the front bench a few days ago in order that he could vote against the Government. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has previously said he would “lie in front of the bulldozers” to stop the third runway going ahead.

However, rather than staying rebelling, Mr Johnson conveniently absented himself from the vote by heading off onto an official trip to Afghanistan.

Labour was also divided on the issue. Leader Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell both came out against the third runway and the party’s policy is to oppose the plan.

However, the party did not whip on the issue and allowed its MPs a free vote. Merseyside’s contingent of Labour MPs voted in favour with Riverside’s Louise Ellman and Wavertree’s Luciana Berger particularly vocal in favour of the project.

To further complicate the party’s position, the leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, called on Labour MPs to back the third runway.

Mersey boost

Politicians and business leaders across Merseyside, as well as Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) have all backed the plan on the basis that it offers significant benefits to the city region.

There is a strong belief here that a major barrier to inward investment is the lack of a major hub link offering onward connections to and from destinations across the world.

LJLA has long coveted a hub link to Heathrow. In recent years the airport has had hub links with Amsterdam, via KLM and Flybe, and an Aer Lingus route via Dublin to a number of North American destinations.

All of those routes were ultimately withdrawn but LJLA insists that was due to a number of other commercial reasons, not a lack of demand.

Under new chief executive John Irving the airport has laid out ambitious growth plans including a £100m investment over the next decade in a bid to push annual passenger numbers from 5m to 8m a year – and a hub link with Heathrow would certainly help that.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport chief executive John Irving. Picture by Tony McDonough


Route fund

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.

Mr Irving said earlier this year: “Liverpool is operating in a very competitive market and connectivity is the key to our growth and success. We want to help businesses here connect with different parts of Europe and the world.”

Liverpool city region is also confident of benefiting from the construction phase of the runway with Birkenhead’s Cammell Laird and the Port of Liverpool both shortlisted to provide pre-assembly hubs.

Close to capacity

Business groups are firmly behind the project. Federation of Small Businesses chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “Additional airport capacity is clearly in the long-term national interest of the UK economy, and a long-awaited agreement on a new runway at Heathrow will go some way to invigorate British business.”

Heathrow is close to capacity and the fear is that not increasing that would see the airport lose its status as a major global hub, with the number of new destinations growing all the time. China alone will build seven new airports this year.

Expansion would see Heathrow’s capacity rise from 85.5m passengers a year to 130m. But it is not only local people who are horrified at the plan. Environmentalists say expansion is unacceptable at a time when the UK has committed to slashing carbon emissions.

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