On 25 October, the Tory government announced that it would back the building of a third runway at Heathrow. Tory MP Zac Goldsmith signalled that he would resign and fight a by-election as an independent candidate, and other Tories objected.
In a bid to reduce the disruption in the Tory party, prime minister Theresa May has said that the decisive parliamentary vote will not be taken until the winter of 2017-8. Construction is due to start in 2020 or 2021.
The CBI and the TUC backed the Heathrow expansion plan. The Lib-Dems and the Greens opposed it. Labour approved Heathrow expansion while in office, in 2009. Then the Tories opposed it, and cancelled the expansion plan when they took office in 2010. Now the Labour Party is still officially pro-third-runway, but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have a long record of opposing it.
Sadiq Khan, Labour mayor of London, denounced the new Tory plan as the "wrong decision", and said "an expanded Gatwick" would be better. The Labour Party's official statement to the press on 25 October was evasive, saying it "it needed assurances on on capacity, climate change, noise and air quality and the wider national benefits before offering its support".
John McDonnell said: “I’ve campaigned against this runway for over 30 years and in that time Heathrow have never managed to win the argument for expansion which still remains the case today
“Nothing has changed. Building a third runway would be devastating for local residents who face losing their homes, schools, community centre and village life. It also remains a disaster for air pollution, noise levels and our effort to tackle climate change".
There will be many more arguments, maybe legal challenges, and debates in the labour movement. Solidarity argues for opposing all new airport expansion. The advantages to working-class people of airport expansion (more cheap travel, new jobs) could be much better got by expanding and cheapening rail and coach travel.
As of 2008, almost a quarter of flights from Heathrow were to destinations less than 500km away, and already well-served by train. A 2013 report had similar findings: 20 to 25% of flights to short-haul destinations. The government’s own estimates are that rail travel per passenger brings 10% of the pollution of air travel.
There are longstanding concerns about noise and about air quality close to airports. However the biggest factor is the impact of aviation emissions on climate change. In response to a parliamentary question on 2 May 2007, aviation minister Gillian Merron said that aviation represented 6.3% of UK emissions. However she added that if the effects of “radiative forcing” i.e. burning greenhouses gases at a higher altitude, are added, the figure for flights departing the UK would be approximately 13% of total UK emissions.
According to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, international emissions from aviation went up by nearly 50% between 1990 and 2000. It estimates that, including the effects of radiative forcing, aviation is on track to account for between 50% and 100% of the UK total carbon budget by 2050.
The real driver for airport expansion is that it will benefit corporations in and around London. Future Heathrow says that 70% of new businesses locating in the UK do so within one hour of Heathrow. Heathrow expansion is about meeting the “needs” of business people to fly directly to business nodes across the globe or to locations within the UK.