25 June  2018

Heathrow expansion approved

by Mark Walker 

Nine years after Gordon Brown’s announcement that his Government backed the expansion of Heathrow Airport, tonight it started its final passage through Parliament. A huge 296 vote majority secured in the Commons a short while ago means that the years of campaigns will leave division in both main political parties, as well as have an impact on the capital far beyond those closest to the airport.

The expectation, nay hope, will be that work will start in 2021. This of course is without factoring in the greatest unknown of our time. By no means will today be the end to the campaign to halt the proposed expansion. It will become a defining issue of the next London Mayoral Campaign; Sadiq Khan has already expressed his opposition, favouring a new runway at Gatwick and one of the rumoured Conservative Mayoral front runners, Justine Greening, voted against today and will continue to oppose expansion. Given the Liberal Democrats’ “resurgence” has mostly happened beneath the flight path, you would be hard pushed to see them selecting a candidate not willing to man the barricades.

So far Hillingdon, Hammersmith & Fulham, Richmond, Wandsworth, and Windsor & Maidenhead Councils have committed to challenging today’s decision. Expect other Council’s to join the fray, certainly if previous actions are anything to go by. Hounslow Council won’t be joining any such action however. Despite their proximity to the airport, they know all too well what a huge employer Heathrow is. The borough covers Chiswick where there will be ample local opposition, but Labour grew stronger in last month’s local elections and Ruth Cadbury, the Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, will have free rein in continuing to campaign against Heathrow expansion.  She has held this position for 20 years, even while being Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council.

A worthwhile footnote on Hillingdon: though Boris Johnson and John McDonnell have found rare common ground on an issue, it’s the Rt Hon member for Hayes and Harlington who might face a bigger backlash. Demographically his constituency reflects those who will enjoy the growth in employment, and are represented by Unite Trade Union, a difficult line to tread.    

In terms of the case against, damage that air travel does to the environment extends far beyond London; it makes hypocrites of those who oppose expansion on environmental grounds while at the same time pointing to Gatwick or Stansted as better options. Anyone who is serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions by eighty percent by 2050 (this Government’s own stated ambition) would surely have voted no today? 

Those at the top of the Government will know the environmental case, so it is the infrastructure argument that has won out. But 2021 is a long time off; after all a week is a long time in politics. So much future economic growth is now reliant on these kinds of government investment schemes and people across the property sector will see the huge potential development opportunities that come with today’s vote. But twenty months into the transitional timetable on leaving the European Union, who can be sure that we will be in a robust enough position to justify the outlay? Our relationship with Brussels might yet have something to say over all of this, regardless of how quickly you can get a flight there.

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