UK wants to raze 783 homes to ex­pand Heathrow air­port

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - – AP

An air­plane takes off over the rooftops of nearby houses at Heathrow Air­port in Har­mondsworth, Lon­don, Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 25.

BRI­TAIN’S GOV­ERN­MENT gave the go-ahead on Tues­day to build a new run­way at Lon­don’s Heathrow air­port de­spite con­cerns about air pol­lu­tion, noise and the de­struc­tion of hun­dreds of homes in the cap­i­tal’s densely pop­u­lated west­ern neigh­bour­hoods.

The de­ci­sion comes after years of dis­cus­sion, study and out­rage over the build­ing of the first full run­way in the south­east of the coun­try since World War II. Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment, reeling from a vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, was anx­ious to prove that the coun­try was “open for busi­ness”.

De­trac­tors de­scribed it as “cat­a­strophic” for the en­vi­ron­ment, lo­cal com­mu­nity and the own­ers of 783 homes that are slated to be razed.

“The step that gov­ern­ment is tak­ing to­day is truly mo­men­tous,” Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling said. “After years of dis­cus­sion and de­lay, this gov­ern­ment is tak­ing de­ci­sive ac­tion to se­cure the UK’s place in the global avi­a­tion mar­ket.”

The gov­ern­ment re­jected other op­tions to ex­pand air­port ca­pac­ity, in­clud­ing the ex­ten­sion of an ex­ist­ing run­way at Heathrow or build­ing a se­cond run­way at Gatwick Air­port, south of Lon­don.

The de­ci­sion is only the first step, though. The gov­ern­ment’s rec­om­men­da­tion will be stud­ied fur­ther, and Par­lia­ment will vote in about a year. Even if ap­proved, it will take years be­fore con­struc­tion be­gins, as res­i­dents have threat­ened to sue to block the project.

En­tire com­mu­ni­ties will be lev­elled. Com­pen­sa­tion and mit­i­ga­tion could cost £2.6 bil­lion (US$3.2 bil­lion), but the gov­ern­ment said the wider good was at stake.

“This is an im­por­tant is­sue for the whole coun­try,” Grayling said. “That is why the gov­ern­ment’s pre­ferred scheme will be sub­ject to full and fair pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.”

Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to ex­plore in­volve­ment in “any le­gal process,” as he said Heathrow al­ready ex­poses the city to more air­craft noise than Paris, Frank­furt, Am­s­ter­dam, Mu­nich and Madrid com­bined. Air-qual­ity is­sues were among Green­peace’s con­cerns.

But it is the fury of res­i­dents that had stalled the project un­til now. Out­raged home­own­ers ar­gued they had been be­trayed by politi­cians who pledged to block ex­pan­sion be­fore be­ing put into of­fice, only to change their minds later.

Lon­don and south­east­ern Eng­land need more air­port ca­pac­ity to meet the grow­ing de­mands of busi­ness trav­ellers and tourists, avi­a­tion of­fi­cials said. Heathrow and ri­val Gatwick, 50 kilo­me­tres south of cen­tral Lon­don, had of­fered com­pet­ing projects that will cost as much as £18.6 bil­lion (US$29.1 bil­lion). A fu­ri­ous pub­lic re­la­tions bat­tle saw plac­ards all over Lon­don ex­tolling the virtues of one air­port over an­other.

TOXIC IS­SUE

The is­sue got so toxic that politi­cians cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to weigh the op­tions, and it rec­om­mended ex­pand­ing Heathrow. The com­mis­sion had al­ready re­jected other op­tions, such as one backed by for­mer Lon­don Mayor Boris John­son to build a new air­port in the Thames Es­tu­ary.

“A new run­way at Heathrow is re­ally fan­tas­tic news, es­pe­cially as the coun­try has waited nearly 50 years for this de­ci­sion,” said Paul Drech­sler, the pres­i­dent of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try. “It will cre­ate the air links that will do so much to drive jobs and un­lock growth across the UK, al­low­ing even more of our in­no­va­tive, am­bi­tious and in­ter­na­tion­ally fo­cused firms, from Bris­tol to Belfast, to take off and break into new mar­kets.”

But in Har­mondsworth, the com­mu­nity gath­ered at the lo­cal Five Bells pub to watch the news in dis­be­lief. Some were in tears.

“The fight is only just be­gin­ning,” said Robert Barn­stone, a Stop Heathrow Ex­pan­sion cam­paigner. “We will see the gov­ern­ment in court and see off this threat – this time, for good.” CEO Bal­ram Vaswani ca­resses a ganja plant grown by Ganja Labs LLC at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Ja­maica on Oc­to­ber 20.

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