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Britain backs Heathrow airport expansion despite opposition

The British government has approved a third runway at London's Heathrow airport. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP London, United Kingdom Oct 25, 2016, 02.25 PM (IST)


After decades of debate, the British government on Tuesday approved a third runway at London's Heathrow airport, a long-awaited decision that comes amid protests from environmentalists. 

The government announced its support for the new runway with a statement, saying it was "the first full length runway in the southeast since the Second World War."  It said that after Britain's exit from the EU, the decision would show its commitment to being "open for business now and in the future and as a hub for tourism and trade".

"A new runway at Heathrow will bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61 billion," the statement issued after the cabinet meeting read.

The expansion of the airport would create an additional 77,000 jobs locally over the next 14 years, the government claimed, adding that the airport has committed to create 5,000 apprenticeships over the same period.

Those not in favour 

The approval process could be delayed or blocked because of the fierce opposition from environmentalists and politicians alike. The Parliament could take upto a year before giving the final go ahead, AFP reported.

Environmentalists are opposed to plans of airport expansion --- parts of which routinely breach EU air pollution limits --- and are now threatening legal action.
 
Ministers opposed to the plans will be granted the rare opportunity to voice their dissenting views. These include Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, London's former mayor, and education secretary Justine Greening.

The government rejected a rival bid for a second runway at Gatwick airport south of the capital, which was backed by current London Mayor Sadiq Khan. "This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain," Khan said adding that he would look into the possibility of legal action.

"A new runway at Heathrow will be devastating for air quality across London --- air pollution around the airport is already above legal levels of NO2," the London mayer said.

Prime Minister Theresa May's local council of Windsor and Maidenhead, an area to the west of the airport, has also voiced its protest.

Business leaders welcome announcement

Business leaders, many of whom have long campaigned for a third runway, say London's five existing airports are not keeping up with rising air travel demand and hope expansion will send a strong message on London`s economic post-Brexit future.

The news was welcomed by the industry with Paul Drechsler, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) calling the outcome an "enormous relief" to firms across the country.

"A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision," he said.

Budget airline easyJet agreed, saying the move would benefit the economy and the passengers.

"This is good news for UK consumers and businesses and will help ensure that the UK is better connected to the rest of the world," said easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall.

Activists, meanwhile, held demonstrations ahead of the announcement and blocked a fake runway set up outside parliament. 

"People are going to be ready to fight this decision," said Annie Wright, of Reclaim the Power, one of the groups staging the demonstration. "If you want to honour your commitment to climate change you cannot build new runways."

West London lawmakers and residents are also opposed to the plan. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith intends to resign and trigger a by-election in his Richmond constituency, local Conservative Association confirmed to AFP.

Hundreds of homes would have to be demolished to accommodate a third Heathrow runway and the small village of Harmondsworth, on the edge of the airport, would be largely flattened. On the small village green in front of the Five Bells pub and The Crown pub, banners have been put up against the expansion, AFP reported.

Paul Cooper, a taxi driver from the village, told AFP, "I feel sorry for the older generation. They don`t want to be moving at their time of life. They should be looked after. They should give us compensation but I don`t know if they will or they won't."

"It's a lovely village. It's a shame it's being knocked down," he added.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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