U.K. Parliament Votes ‘Yes’ to Heathrow Expansion, Further Legal Challenges Ahead

An aircraft lands at Heathrow Airport (Photo: London Heathrow Airport)

The U.K. Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to back the expansion of Heathrow Airport and the building of a third runway. U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling called the parliamentary vote on approval for a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport as ‘the biggest transport decision in a generation.’

The vote in the House of Commons was the latest step in the decades-long process to approve expansion at the U.K.’s biggest airport. 415 Members of Parliaments (MP’s) voted Yes and 119 voted No in a ballot which took place at 10:00 p.m. Monday evening after over 3 hours of vigorous debate and protest. The decision to expand Heathrow is one of the most controversial infrastructure developments in the U.K. with opponents citing environmental and social concerns as reasons to halt the project.

The necessity to increase aviation capacity in the south-east of England is undisputed. What has created discussion and debate has been what will be the best approach to achieve this. The parliamentary vote followed a report from the Davies Commission in July 2015 recommending Heathrow as the best alternative to achieving increased capacity and connectivity for the U.K. and government confirmation of the recommendation in October 2016.

Compounding the issue of Heathrow expansion has been the outcome of the Brexit referendum in June 2016 which resulted in a leadership change in the ruling Conservative party and a subsequent general election which saw the government’s majority severely reduced requiring a coalition of parties to rule. Prime Minister Theresa May has faced mounting criticism for opposing the expansion in 2009 and now demanding that her MP’s back the plan, even though her constituency is on the flight path and that it will be affected by any increase in flights.

The U.K.’s opposition Labor party is also facing criticism and conflict as their approach has been to oppose the third runway, reversing their initial position, which has drawn the ire of the U.K.’s largest union Unite, a traditional ally of the party. In contrast to the conservative government, Labour MP’s were given a free vote allowing them to vote with the government even though the official party line is opposing expansion.

Several high-profile MP’s have also faced criticism for their reversal of position on the third runway and in the case of the Scottish National Party a total reversal of their 35 MP’s who backed the proposal and are now against it due to the optics of voting with the Conservative government. Last week the Trade Minister whose constituency is on the flight path resigned from his position. Eccentric Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, firmly against expansion, was conveniently out of the country and missed the vote.

Even with the result of the vote favoring expansion, there are still significant legal challenges to overcome with several local councils announcing they will launch a judicial review of the decision. The councils of Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor & Maidenhead, which includes the prime minister’s constituency, have support from the Mayor of London and other Greater London authorities.

The Financial Times reports that Hillingdon council has set aside £200,000 to cover legal costs and would spend “whatever it takes” to argue their case. Conservative council leader Ray Puddifoot said: “We have sufficient funds in reserve for however long this takes. We will fight it.”

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport Ltd is continuing their public relations campaign of extolling the benefit of an expanded Heathrow to provide greater domestic and international connectivity for a post-Brexit Britain.

John Flett

John Flett

John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content.

John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management and has recently led an undergraduate Aviation Management course for 450 students at a leading London university. John is currently an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.
John Flett