Expansion Announcement “within weeks”

The government has to “move rapidly” on airport expansion in the South East and is likely to make an announcement “within weeks”, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during a Radio 4 interview yesterday.

Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary

Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary

 


Chris Grayling, who was appointed to the Transport role in new Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, said that an immediate decision would be taken to “provide certainty” to businesses. While this is important, it is a shame that Grayling does not acknowledge the impact that living under repeated threat is having on residents living around Heathrow. A third runway or an extended northern runway are still being considered for Heathrow, together with a second runway at Gatwick.

The summer recess runs from 21st July to 5th September, then there is a conference break from
15th September to 10th October. It is therefore thought likely that an announcement will be made between 5th and 15th September.

Patrick McLoughlin, the former transport secretary, said last month that a final decision was unlikely to be taken before October but now that Theresa May is Prime Minister there is pressure once again for an announcement. A decision on the issue has been delayed three times in the past year. This includes a delay to allow for further assessment of the environmental and noise impact of more flights.

The Airports Commission Report, which was commissioned by the government in 2012, was published on 1st July 2015. The document strongly recommended a third runway at Heathrow but did not rule out another runway at Gatwick. In the past year some people have even suggested that both airports should be given another runway.

Opposition to Heathrow expansion has been growing for more than a decade, while Gatwick had an agreement that prevented building until 2019. If Heathrow is given the go-ahead for expansion the government can expect a legal challenge and protests by residents and environmental activists.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, Chris Grayling said: “I am very clear that I want to move rapidly with a decision on what happens on airport capacity. It is a decision that will be taken collectively by the government.

“We have a quasi-judicial role so I’m not going to say today whether I prefer Gatwick or Heathrow. There’s two options at Heathrow. I’m going to look at this very carefully in the coming weeks.”

The new cabinet features powerful critics of Heathrow expansion including Boris Johnson and Justine Greening. Theresa May repeatedly criticised previous attempts to build a third runway at Heathrow while in opposition in the late 2000s. Conservative Party Leader David Cameron realised the force of feeling against Heathrow expansion and used his “No Ifs, No Buts, No Third Runway” stance to win votes in the run up to the 2010 election. From then on the issue was kicked into the long grass.

Theresa May lives in Sonning, which does not have the noise issues of other areas, but her Maidenhead constituency is affected by flightpaths and she is aware that choosing Heathrow would be an enormous U-Turn after opposing expansion in the past. If she can’t be trusted on Heathrow, people will be asking if she can be trusted to negotiate the exit from the EU.

Rob Barnstone