LONDON • British ministers yesterday backed plans for a new runway at London's Heathrow airport, paving the way for a parliamentary vote after decades of delays, although the project could still face challenges before building starts.
In the past, plans to expand the airport have been opposed by local communities and environmentalists, particularly over the impact of noise and construction on a large area of west London, but the current £14 billion (S$25 billion) expansion plan is making progress.
But the Cabinet has given its blessing to the new runway plan, said Transport Minister Chris Grayling, paving the way for lawmakers to vote on the issue within 21 days. The decision comes after almost half a century of indecision on how and where to add new airport capacity in densely populated south-east England. It will be the first full-length runway to be built in the London area in 70 years.
"The time for action is now," Mr Grayling said after a Cabinet meeting, as he laid out the plans in Parliament. "This is a decision taken in the national interest."
In an attempt to satisfy opponents of the scheme, he said that the new runway would be delivered within existing air-quality obligations, and include a 6.5-hour scheduled night flight ban, plus compensation for local residents and a new commission to monitor aviation noise.
Business leaders and politicians have argued that a bigger Heathrow is even more important since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, as the expanded airport will enhance trade links and boost economic growth.
Polling by ComRes last month showed most lawmakers intend to vote in favour of the third runway, which will help Britain catch up with European rivals. Paris and Frankfurt have four runways, while Amsterdam has six.
Heathrow, owned by Ferrovial, Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corporation, among others, will then have to secure planning permission, with construction slated to start in 2021 and the new runway operational by 2026.
A group of local councils and environmental group Greenpeace could, however, try to mount a legal challenge.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE