UK approves third runway for Heathrow

The government gave the go-ahead to the £8bn project after determining that it would not breach conditions on air and noise pollution and public transport access. The runway faces stiff opposition from local groups and Conservatives in Parliament.

The UK government on Thursday approved a controversial plan to allow the construction of a third runway for London’s Heathrow Airport.

The approval was announced in Parliament by the UK Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, who argued that the construction of the third runway is the best way to maximise the airport’s capacity while meeting the government’s conditions for supporting the third runway.

The airport, which handles about 67 million passengers a year, currently operates at 99 percent of its maximum capacity. It is operated by the British Airports Authority (BAA) which, in turn, is owned by an affiliate of Spanish construction and infrastructure firm Grupo Ferrovial. BAA is currently in the process of selling a neighboring London airport, Gatwick.

Heathrow: in need of
additional capacity

The UK government had previously set proposals limiting noise, air quality and the provision of public transport as conditions for supporting the third runway. They were meant to comply with the UK’s agreement to comply with an EU-UK agreement to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 as well as limit the impact of the airport on its surrounding population.

Hoon supports a limit on the initial use of the third runway tono more than 125,000 movements per year rather than the additional 222,000 per year estimated by the government in a previous consultation.

He also gave his support to a sixth terminal at the airport.

If BAA brings forward a planning application for a new runway, Hoon estimated the new runway would be operational between 2015 and 2020.

The government had previously estimated that construction of the runway could cost £8 billion (€9 billion; $12 billion). Other estimates have placed the potential cost as high as £13 billion.

The project faces tough opposition from local groups as the neighbouring village of Sipson would have to be demolished to make way for the runway. The opposition Conservatives have also pledged to block the runway if it gets into power.