The government has backed plans to build a new runway at Heathrow airport, pending a full vote by ministers later this month.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling presented a revised vision for expansion at Heathrow to the House of Commons on Tuesday (June 5).
The proposal is conditional on air quality obligations being met, and is supported by concessions on noise and night-flying, as well as a £2.6 billion compensation package for local residents.
Cabinet ministers met on Tuesday morning to thrash out the proposal ahead of Grayling’s Commons address: “I come to this House to mark a historic moment,” he said. "The time for action is now."
Grayling, who this week has already faced calls to resign over the Northern and Thameslink rail timetable debacle, said while he understood the strength of feeling among residents, the decision “must be taken in the national interest”.
He vowed expansion would stick to the government and Heathrow’s original 2026 schedule for delivery of a new runway.
Grayling said the government had acted on 24 of 25 recommendations from the transport committee, which scrutinised the government’s draft Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). MPs will vote on the final vision later this month.
Prime Minister Theresa May had been expected to give her Conservative MPs a free vote is now expected to impose a three-line whip preventing MPs from rebelling.
Notable anti-Heathrow minsters include foreign secretary Boris Johnson, whose Uxbridge constituency would be significantly affected by any significant change at Heathrow.
Grayling said the UK had one of the largest aviation sections in the world, worth £22 billion to GDP, supporting 500,000 jobs and responsible for 285 million passengers a year.
"Heathrow is already full and the evidence shows the remaining London airports won’t be far behind," said the minister, reiterating Heathrow’s status as the busiest two-runway airport in the world.
The transport secretary said 15% of new slots generated by the third runway would be reserved to increase domestic connectivity, adding he expected "increased competition on existing routes" giving passengers more choice.
Some £2.6 billion will be set aside to compensate residents, including nearly £750 million to fund noise insulation for homes, schools and community buildings. Heathrow airport, meanwhile, is offering 125% of full market value for homes subject to compulsory purchase orders.
Grayling said the government "expected" there to be a six-and-a-half hour ban on night flights, and for Heathrow and airlines to work with the community to hammer out "longer periods of respite" during a further consultation on night-flying restrictions.
The whole expansion scheme is conditional on the new runway meeting UK air quality obligations. Grayling said advances in technology ensured new aircraft are "cleaner, greener and quieter" than existing stock.
The CAA will continue to advise on how Heathrow can deliver expansion that is "affordable to consumers" with the whole scheme set to be privately financed.
Grayling said it was of paramount importance expansion delivered value-for-money, adding the CAA had already identified potential savings of up to £2.5 billion.
"I have recommissioned the CAA to continue to work with industry... to keep charges close to current levels. This will include gateway reviews, independent scrutiny and benchmarking of proposals, which I know are of paramount importance to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the wider airline community."
On transport links, Heathrow, said Grayling, will be served by better Piccadilly line connections with central London; Crossrail; HS2 via a new station at Old Oak Common; and new western and southern access to the rest of the UK.
Despite government backing though, a new runway at Heathrow remains the best part of a decade away, with Grayling calling on other UK airports to "make more intensive use" of existing infrastructure to improve connections and take some of the pressure off the capital.
"Airspace modernisation must be taken forward irrespective of the decision on the proposed new runway, and to do so we expect multiple airports across the south of England will bring forward consultations on their proposals," said the minister.
There will be further public consultation on the finer, precise details of Heathrow’s third runway proposals before the whole scheme goes before an independent planning inspector.