Is Heathrow Expansion Cleared For Takeoff With Britain’s New Prime Minister?

Jul 29, 2019

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Underneath the Heathrow flightpath, a new resident of 10 Downing Street has moved in to take over as the UK’s next Prime Minister. Boris Johnson officially became Britain’s new leader on Wednesday evening. Four years ago, Johnson claimed that he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway” — referring to the long-debated expansion of Britain’s main hub airport: London Heathrow. But where does he stand on the issue now?

The huge Heathrow expansion project would involve diverting rivers, rerouting the M25 — Britain’s busiest motorway — through a tunnel beneath the new runway and the demolition of an entire village. The expansion includes a new runway, which will cost £14 billion and should be completed by 2026. However, the full expansion of the airport could last until 2050.

As Mayor of London, Johnson spent millions of pounds campaigning for a new airport to be built in the Thames Estuary, which became known as “Boris Island”. Boris Island renderings resemble the current Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport — situated in the water, it would be an entirely new hub for the country. His argument was that we should not reinforce 1940s planning by expanding an airport that requires aircraft to circle over West and Central London. Heathrow’s ‘stacking’ procedures whereby aircraft are required to enter holding patterns prior to commencing final approach due to heavy traffic is often under fire from environmentalists, given the additional Co2 emitted during this phase of the flight. Environmentalists welcomed and supported Johnson’s opposition to Heathrow expansion.

During the Tory party campaign, however, Johnson softened his ‘bulldozer’ stance on opposing Heathrow expansion. Though his exact stance on the matter of expanding air traffic into the UK remains somewhat up in the air, he’s signalled that he will not oppose Heathrow’s latest plans.

London Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye isn’t worried about Heathrow expansion being blocked. He believes neither Johnson nor the Court of Appeal will be able to block the building of the third runway. “It is now government policy and we are all getting on with it”, he said. “This is now a done deal”.

Holland-Kaye’s confidence comes amid parliament’s decision last year to vote for Heathrow expansion. MPs voted in favour of the controversial plans to build a third runway by 415 votes to 119 — a very comfortable majority of 296. Boris Johnson didn’t vote in 2018, as he was on a trip to Afghanistan.

An Emirates operated Airbus A380-800 double-decker aircraft flies over residential houses and properties as it prepares to land at London Heathrow Airport, west of London on May 3, 2019. - London Mayor Sadiq Khan, along with environmental charities and local councils, on May 1, 2019, lost a court battle to prevent an expansion of Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport. Opponents to the introduction of a third runway at the west London airport cite the negative impacts on noise and air pollution, habitat destruction, transport congestion, and climate change. (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP) (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

According to some reports, Johnson has already assured fans of Heathrow expansion that he will respect the decision of Parliament to go ahead with the project.

Environmentalists continue to be fearful of the noise pollution and carbon impact by the additional flights that will be operated to an expanded Heathrow. Heathrow’s proposals are now open to public consultation until mid-September, after which final plans will be submitted for approval. Environmental campaigners ‘Friends of the Earth’ said, “Boris Johnson said he’d ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ to prevent a third runway at Heathrow. Now he has the power to cancel this polluting project along with other climate disasters like fracking. And he must”.

Johnson’s campaign declined to comment on his Heathrow policy.

While Heathrow expansion will, of course, be a pressing issue, the new Prime Minister faces several other challenges, many regarded as far more urgent than expanding an already-large London airport.

Featured photo by Ben Stansall/Getty Images.

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