U.K. Government Plans to Select One London Airport for Growth

  • Minister to stick with brief from state-appointed commission
  • Additional capacity enhancements could be considered later

Aircraft at London Heathrow Airport.

U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling poured cold water on the notion that the government may approve competing expansion plans for London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

An imminent announcement on boosting flight capacity in southeast England will take its lead from the state-appointed Airports Commission, which said last year that the government urgently needs to address the issue of providing additional flights by 2030 and only then look ahead to the situation beyond 2040, Grayling said Monday in response to questions from lawmakers.

“I think right now, given how long it’s taken this decision to happen in the first place, my focus would be on doing what we should do now,” Grayling told the House of Commons Transport Committee. “Then either this government or a future government can look at what future strategy needs to be.”

That means that once an announcement in favor of Heathrow or Gatwick is made, the priority will be to spend the next 12 months drafting a national policy statement on airports encapsulating that decision, Grayling said. The document must be approved by parliament, a process that should help stop the runway plan becoming bogged down in what committee member Mark Menzies said could be “a decade of legal challenges” by local councils and the green lobby.

Cabinet Meeting

“It’s very much my hope and belief that although there will undoubtedly be opposition to whatever we do, that the will of parliament, the democratic and elected parliament of our nation, is what will ultimately count,” Grayling said.

Whether to build a third runway at Heathrow, extend one of the hub’s existing strips or add a second at Gatwick is set to be discussed at a meeting of Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet committee on airport expansion Tuesday, though a verdict may not now come until next week.

The capacity debate has dogged U.K. governments for years, with David Cameron, May’s predecessor, avoiding a decision first by appointing the commission and then seeking further input on the levels of noise on pollution likely to result from the competing proposals.

Grayling said the final announcement will be made personally by him to the House of Commons. Heathrow’s extra-runway option, proposed by owner Heathrow Airport Ltd., was highlighted by the Airports Commission as easily the strongest plan on offer.

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