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British govt backs Heathrow airport expansion despite split

British govt backs Heathrow airport expansion despite split

LONDON: The British government approved a new third runway at London’s Heathrow airport on Tuesday in a long-awaited decision that has stoked divisions and follows decades of debate over the issue.

The move was hailed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling as a “momentous step” but sparked protests and threats of legal action from opponents.

Following Britain’s vote in June to leave the European Union, the “long overdue” decision would “send a clear message today that Britain is open for business”, Grayling told the House of Commons.

The government said the new runway — the capital’s first new full-length runway since the Second World War — would “bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to $75 billion”.

It said up to 77,000 local jobs are expected to be created over the next 14 years, while the airport has committed to create 5,000 apprenticeships over the same period.

But there is strong environmental opposition to the expansion and the approval process could still delay or even block its execution over the coming years. Ministers opposed to the plans have been granted the rare opportunity to voice their dissenting views, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, an outspoken critic of Heathrow expansion.

The former London mayor said he would continue to fight the plans, warning that London risked becoming the “city of planes”.

“Building a third runway slap bang in the middle of the western suburb to the greatest city on earth is not the right thing to do,” he said.

The government rejected a rival bid for a second runway at Gatwick airport south of the capital, backed by current London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

“This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain,” Khan said, adding that he would look into the possibility of legal action.

“A new runway at Heathrow will be devastating for air quality across London — air pollution around the airport is already above legal levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).”

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2016

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