Theresa May continued her march on British infrastructure this week, ostensibly drawing a line under 25 years of debate over Britain’s airport capacity.
If the Government’s decision to back the expansion of Europe’s biggest airport was the cause of any jubilation for Heathrow Executives it may have been premature. In reality, the political wrangling that previously stalled the delivery of the south east’s first new runway since the second world war is anything but concluded. Rather, it has taken on a legal and environmental dimension that will ensure bulldozers are unlikely to materialise anytime soon.
As anticipated, arch opponents of Heathrow’s expansion were out in force touring the media studios on Tuesday. But the challenge for the Government doesn’t lie in the likes of Zac Goldsmith MP who stuck to his guns and resigned his Richmond Park seat within two hours of the announcement. Early polling suggests Goldsmith’s decision to campaign as an Independent candidate in the ensuing by-election is in fact more likely to embarrass a resurgent local Liberal Democrat party.
Rather, for the Government, the most dangerous opposition comes from its own ranks, with prominent West London MPs including Justine Greening, the education secretary, and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, both indicating they will continue to formerly oppose the decision. Proponents of a third runway at Heathrow will take some comfort in the fact that, although fault lines are exposed within the cabinet, a Labour and SNP bloc in parliament will likely overturn any efforts by Tory rebels to block the decision in the House of Commons.
Beyond the political dimension, the Government faces legal obstacles in all directions, whether it be from slighted rivals such as Gatwick and Stanstead; from environmental campaigners; or from the four local authorities most affected – Windsor and Maidenhead, Richmond, Hillingdon and Wandsworth – who have raised extensive funds to challenge the proposals. The proposals themselves are anything but finalised, with extensive work required to determine whether the M25 should be redirected over or under the new runway, and the property industry is also at pains to point out that the government will have to combat the same complex, erroneous planning system which frustrates development across the UK.
With Heathrow, as always, the hurdles are many and those hoping for a peaceful conclusion to the debate over Britain’s largest infrastructure black hole will be disappointed.