LONDON: Britain’s cabinet on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to building a third runway at London Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport by passenger numbers, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said.
“The time for action is now,” Grayling said after a cabinet meeting, as he laid out the controversial plans in parliament, which is expected to vote on the long-mooted project in the coming weeks.
“This is a decision taken in the national interest,” he said.
The expansion project is highly contested, mainly because of concerns about the environment, as well as the implications for noise levels and disruption from construction for a large area of west London, where Heathrow is located.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who represents Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a constituency near the airport, has previously opposed the plan.
It is unclear whether he and other lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party will be allowed a free vote on the project.
Other Conservative MPs have also voiced their opposition.
Grayling said the vote would be held “in the coming days”.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Green-lighting a new runway at Heathrow on World Environment Day is like handing out free cigarettes on World Health Day.
“This airstrip alone will load the atmosphere with as much extra carbon as some entire countries pump out. It would make Londoners’ air more dangerous to breathe, contributing to an air pollution crisis that’s already cutting short thousands of lives.
“It’s time the UK Government took seriously its commitment to protect the environment by building a low-carbon economy.”
But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Britain’s big business lobby, voiced strong support for the project.
CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie said: “It’s fantastic that the new runway at Heathrow is getting closer to take-off. All the more so as the United Kingdom has waited for nearly half a century for this decision.
“Expanding our aviation capacity, and creating new flight routes to rapidly growing markets, is mission critical to ensuring Britain can compete on the post-Brexit world stage.
“Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible,” he said.
Grayling said the government’s decision was “an important milestone in building a global Britain”.
“As we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the worldâs best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this,” he said.