The UK government has given the green light for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport, after years of indecision.
In 2016 Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a parliamentary vote on the subject to avoid triggering by-elections and potentially losing Conservative seats, as some MPs had threatened to resign over the issue.
Earlier that year, former Prime Minister David Cameron had delayed the decision following the Brexit vote and his subsequent announcement of resignation.
The vote will now go ahead and the government has confirmed it will be imposing a three-line whip, meaning that Conservative MPs who object to the third runway can publicly state their views to local media but must vote in favour and not actively campaign against the decision.
Planned as a £16 billion privately funded investment by the Spanish-owned Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, who currently operate the airport, proponents of the third runway argue that it would improve air capacity in London, creating jobs and encouraging economic growth.
However, critics argue that the environmental impact of the third runway would be a huge negative, causing additional noise, air pollution and congestion, and that Heathrow airport has already breached legal pollution limits for the area.
The third runway has both opposition and support across the major parties, including Labour. The unions are broadly supportive, but MPs including John McDonnell, Justine Greening and Zac Goldsmith have warned of taxpayer liability if the terms of the deal with Heathrow ever change.
The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas described it as a “disastrous decision” that “flies in the face of common sense and climate science. The fact that Chris Grayling didn’t even mention climate change in his statement is an absolute disgrace.”
Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate previously argued that building a new runway at Gatwick instead would allow London to reap the economic benefits without having the same effect on the environment.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, confirmed £2.6 billion in compensation for local people, and said that planning consent would only be granted if the project met the UK’s commitments towards air quality.