Bri­tain backs new $22bn run­way at Heathrow

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Bri­tain’s government gave the goa­head yes­ter­day to build a new run­way at Lon­don’s Heathrow air­port de­spite con­cerns about air pol­lu­tion, noise and the de­struc­tion of homes in the cap­i­tal’s densely pop­u­lated western neigh­bor­hoods.

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 the coun­try was “open for busi­ness.” De­trac­tors de­scribed it as “cat­a­strophic.” “The step that government is tak­ing to­day is truly mo­men­tous,” Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling said. “I am proud that 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.

En­tire com­mu­ni­ties will be lev­eled, and the government said that com­pen­sa­tion and mit­i­ga­tion could cost 2.6 bil­lion pounds ($3.2 bil­lion). But the government was un­moved by the con­cerns. “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.”

Mayor op­poses move

Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to ex­plore in­volve­ment in “any le­gal process,” as Heathrow al­ready ex­poses the city to more air­craft noise than Paris, Frank­furt, Am­s­ter­dam, Mu­nich and Madrid com­bined. Out­raged res­i­dents ar­gued they had been be­trayed by politi­cians who pledged to block ex­pan­sion be­fore be­ing put into of­fice - only to change their minds later. Anti-ex­pan­sion groups gath­ered in the vil­lage of Har­mondsworth, a quin­tes­sen­tial English vil­lage re­plete with vil­lage green and clas­sic red phonebox that traces its his­tory to the 6th cen­tury. The third run­way would level two-thirds of its homes. “This is Har­mondsworth, this is our lit­tle green here,” said Neil Kev­eran, who has cam­paigned against Heathrow ex­pan­sion for years. The run­way con­struc­tion would be just across the road from his home, he said.

“Nowhere else in Europe do they build their run­ways di­rectly in the heart of res­i­den­tial ar­eas over their cities, so I don’t see why our qual­ity of life should be any less.” Lon­don and south­east­ern Eng­land need more air­port capacity to meet the growing de­mands of busi­ness trav­el­ers and tourists. Heathrow and ri­val Gatwick, 30 miles (50 kilo­me­ters) south of cen­tral Lon­don, had of­fered com­pet­ing projects that will cost as much as 18.6 bil­lion pounds ($29.1 bil­lion).

But those in the path­ways of the bull­doz­ers don’t see why their homes should be sac­ri­ficed, even if the coun­try might need capacity. The is­sue was so toxic that politi­cians cre­ated an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to weigh the op­tions and it had de­cided to ex­pand Heathrow.

It is up to po­lit­i­cal leaders and law­mak­ers to make the fi­nal de­ci­sion, and author­i­ties had stalled for months. The up­heaval prompted by Bri­tain’s vote to leave the EU pushed the is­sue back fur­ther. A fu­ri­ous public re­la­tions bat­tle has raged, with plac­ards all over Lon­don’s sub­way sys­tem, for ex­am­ple, ex­tolling the virtues of Heathrow or Gatwick. 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.”

Many busi­ness groups and unions had of­fered sup­port for ex­pan­sion, in part to keep jobs in the com­mu­nity. But it was far from univer­sal. Michael O’Leary, the CEO of bud­get air­line Ryanair, sup­ported ex­pan­sion at Gatwick, one of the air­ports where his car­rier flies from. He de­scribed the de­ci­sion as an anti-com­pet­i­tive “re­turn to mo­nop­oly feath­erbed­ding at Heathrow.” —AP

LON­DON: An Emi­rates Air­bus A380 air­craft pre­par­ing to land at Heathrow Air­port in west Lon­don. (Inset) A res­i­dent of Har­mondsworth, who will be ef­fected by Heathrow’s ex­pan­sion, ges­tures in front of a TV in a pub. — AFP/AP

LON­DON: Bri­tish For­eign Min­is­ter Boris John­son (left) and In­ter­na­tional Trade Min­is­ter Liam Fox leave the weekly cab­i­net meet­ing at 10 Down­ing Street in Lon­don yes­ter­day. — AFP

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