[Update: 25 October. As expected the Government has just voted in favour of a third runway at Heathrow]
It now looks as if it’s definitely going to happen. Or it may not. After years of dithering a decision in favour of expanding Heathrow will (i.e. could) be made by the end of October. Note the ‘coulds’ and ‘mays’, or maybe that’s Mays. In short, no one really wants to be the PM who gives clear and irreversible support for expanding the UK’s busiest airport. David Cameron made a clear decision to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. And what did that get him? A chance to practise his after dinner speeches, annotate his Number 10 diaries and weigh up offers of lucrative consultancy work, we’d imagine. OK, so a third runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick isn’t exactly Brexit but it’s certainly highly divisive. A bit like HS2 with wings.
With so many local residents, local MPs and local Councils opposed to more planes filling the skies over west London, it’s not surprising that a decision keeps being fudged. All this goes on to the great annoyance of Heathrow who have said they’re ready to rock and roll with the construction work – they have the funds to do it from assorted sovereign wealth funds, pension schemes and elsewhere (all of whom no doubt have your very best interests at heart). It probably does make business sense to expand Heathrow but the purely commercial angle is just one aspect of such an important decision. There are the social, environmental and political angles too. Given these complexities, some question whether a third runway at Heathrow can ever actually be delivered.
The government decision in favour of Heathrow will still only mark the beginning of a new stage in the whole process. There’s a further public consultation planned, a Commons vote (complete with rebellious Tory MPs such as Zac Goldsmith, our very own Tania Mathias and the ever-pragmatic Boris Johnson), a planning process and, no doubt, assorted risks of legal challenges. Four years is likely to be the soonest that any construction could begin however, if the experience of the last few decades is anything to go by, in four years’ time we might see the government of the day establishing yet another new commission to look into airport expansion.