Britain’s airport expansion situation explained

It was first mooted some time in 2006 and now it’s been accepted: Britain needs to expand its airport capacity to allow more people to fly into the country. However, 10 years on, the government is still dithering over whether to expand Heathrow, giving it a 3rd runway and 6th terminal, or Gatwick (with a 2nd runway and – potentially – 3rd terminal).

Things really started to move forward in 2012 with the establishing of the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies. In 2015 the commission came back with the verdict that Heathrow is the best candidate, as it is thought that it would deliver the most in terms of economic growth while not harming the environment too much.

David Cameron stated in 2015 that a final verdict on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick would be reached by the end of that year following Davies’ announcement. He later pushed this back to summer 2016 and then following his resignation as a result of the Brexit vote stated that it should be up to the new Prime Minister to decide.

Theresa May was poised to give her backing to Heathrow this month but now, following opposition from MPs within her own party has delayed a debate in Parliament until early 2018. Following Brexit, it is thought that she wants to unify her party and not initiate another divide between MPs. However, it is pretty obvious that it is just going to cause the opposite.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has previously said that he would lie down ‘in front of the bulldozers’ if Heathrow was given the green light and Zac Goldsmith, the former Tory candidate for Mayor of London, has stated in the past that he would quit the Conservative party if the airport gets a 3rd runway. His constituency, Richmond Park, is a 20 minute drive from Heathrow and the MP is very popular there – he increased his majority by 19,000 votes in 2015 and even if he had to stand as an independent candidate, his anti-Heathrow policies could probably fend off whichever rival May chose to replace him with.

Put simply, this delay is just going to lead to a year of internal-arguing amongst the Conservatives, especially pointless when a Heathrow verdict looks inevitable. Labour supports a Heathrow vote and with less than 60 Tories supporting Gatwick, May could easily get a vote through the Commons. In addition, the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling both privately support a Heathrow vote.

With the economic uncertainties that have been produced by Brexit, now is the perfect time to invest in infrastructure. Plus, Britain needs a new airport: why delay a decision? The debate looks set to rage on but, personally, I can’t see the Prime Minister being able to hold out for 15 months. I’d put my money on Heathrow winning, with a verdict announced by summer next year.

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