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NEWS Last modified on October 25, 2016

Government backs third Heathrow runway but its construction is far from a formality

The UK government today agreed to expand Heathrow, but the long running saga over whether it or Gatwick gets a new runway is far from over with a long period of consultation expected before a final decision is made.

The UK desperately needs more airport capacity for the capital to avoid running out of slots and losing traffic to European hubs like Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris CDG and Frankfurt.

However, today’s announcement appears to have divided the government with several high-profile members of the cabinet bitterly opposed to expansion at Heathrow and the construction of a third runway at the UK hub is far from a certainty.

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The government’s decision to allow for a public consultation before making its final decision, which MPs then get to vote on in the winter of 2017-2018, is likely to delay the opening of any new runway for at least a decade.

The delay is exactly what Gatwick CEO, Stewart Wingate, feared when he spoke to Airport World about the issue earlier this year.

Talking in January, Wingate said: “What we mustn’t do is nothing at all or the decision goes Heathrow’s way and it all unravels because of environmental concerns, sending us back to the drawing board and building in years of delays.”

Today he commented: "We are disappointed as we do not believe this is the right answer for Britain. Gatwick has put forward a credible financeable and deliverable plan for expansion.

“It is a plan that can guarantee growth and guarantee certainty for Britain. We look forward to studying the full reasons behind the government decision in detail.

"The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed. Our message today is that Gatwick stands ready to proceed when the time comes.”

A statement issued by Heathrow said: "We welcome the news that Heathrow is the government's preferred site for a new runway and look forward to hearing the full details later from the Transport Secretary.

"Expansion of Heathrow is the only option that will connect all the UK to global growth, helping to build a stronger and fairer economy.

"We await the full details, but Heathrow stands ready to work with government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK."
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However, Heathrow Hub, which backed extending one of the gateway’s existing runways over the construction of a new third runway, claimed that the government has opted for the wrong option recommended by the Airports Commission.

It said: "Our view is the government has selected the right location but the wrong scheme. Our proposal is cheaper, simpler, less disruptive and quicker to construct than Heathrow Airport’s third runway. 

"The decision will result in substantially higher passenger charges and opposition from airlines, passengers and those affected in the Heathrow area."

While others believe that the government's dragging of its heels over making a 100% comitment to the runway is bad for the UK.

James Stamp, global head of aviation at KPMG, said: “Now, more than ever, UK plc needs to demonstrate both its ability and willingness to connect to trading partners and investors in the rest of the world. This is the right time to send a strong message that we are open for business.

"Unfortunately, while the cabinet commitment to a Heathrow scheme is positive, the additional delay sends a mixed and somewhat indecisive message to business and global investors.

"In the UK, it means businesses still can't really plan. To the rest of the world, this country looks increasingly isolated, and unable (or unwilling) to move forward with pace and vision.
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“The debate about new runways in the UK has not just about where to lay 3000 metres of concrete; it’s fundamentally about how we secure our future economic prosperity. 

"The reality is stark: currently London is not directly connected to 128 of the biggest cities in the world; we lack connections to 194 of the 309 cities that will have populations over two million in 2030; and our competitors already connect to 41 of these global growth engines.

"A truly positive statement would have gone a long way to alleviate the concern that we are missing those global connections that are now so important for business, jobs, and growth.

"However, the partial commitment does nothing to really reassure investors that we are moving forward to establish our place in a post Brexit world.”
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Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, insisted that opting for a third runway at Heathrow is the best decision for Britain and signals that the UK is open for business in the wake if the Brexit vote.

He said: "We thought long and hard about this and believe that a third runway at Heathrow is the best option for the future of the whole country. It will provide better connectivity to the different regions of the United Kingdom and provide the best trade links to the world.

"We think that this is the right decision and my message to Gatwick is that I know it will be disappointing to them, but the airport remains an important part of our transportation system and will continue being so. What today is about is doing the right thing for Britain and delivering the best option that secures all of our futures." 


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