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Long-debated plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport in London have been approved by ministers.
The government’s economic sub-committee, chaired by prime minister Theresa May, backed the plans which were then approved by her full cabinet.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said it was a “historic moment” for UK aviation.
Announcing £2.6 billion in compensation for residents and noise abatement measures, he said it would only proceed if air quality obligations were met.
MPs will be asked to vote on the expansion plans – formally known as the Airports National Policy Statement – in the coming weeks.
Ahead of the planned vote, Heathrow urged MPs to help secure Britain’s future as a global trading powerhouse by backing an expansion.
Commenting on the decision to table the vote, Heathrow chief executive, John Holland Kaye, said: “Together with our supporters across the country, we urge all MPs to vote for expansion.
“Their votes will connect all of Britain to global trade, increase competition and choice for passengers and create tens of thousands of new skilled jobs for future generations.
“The world is waiting for Britain.”
Following recent letters to politicians from Britain’s major business groups and trade unions, Heathrow is writing to all MPs today to tell them how their votes would “green light” the airport’s privately-funded expansion plans.
The project could boost Britain’s economy by billions, argues the government, as well as opening up to 40 new long-haul trading routes for Britain’s exporters.
There are also hopes it could create tens of thousands of new skilled jobs across the country and lower airfares for passengers.
However, environmental campaigners argue the decision will dramatically increase pollution, with Heathrow seeing an increase of around 700 flights per day.
There have also been concerns over noise pollution, as well as the impact on the villages surrounding the current site of Heathrow – some of which are likely to be demolished as part of the expansion.
Reacting to the news, Craig Kreeger, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “We applaud the government’s decision today.
“Heathrow expansion is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that must not be squandered.
“As the UK’s only hub airport, an expanded Heathrow is uniquely placed to enable a transformative increase in airline competition for passengers – that will benefit international tourism, businesses and leisure passengers alike.”
Virgin Atlantic is the second largest carrier at London Heathrow serving destinations across North America, Africa, India, China and the Middle East.
The latest independent polling from ComRes shows strong cross-party support, with 75 per cent of MPs backing Heathrow expansion following a rigorous selection process.
This culminated in the government confirming Heathrow’s north-west runway as the preferred scheme for delivering much needed new airport capacity in the south-east, based on the Airports Commission’s report.
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, strongly urged MPs to vote for expanding Heathrow.
He said: “Heathrow expansion, one of the biggest construction projects in Europe, answers the demands of many Unite members across the UK – for more skilled, well-paid and sustainable jobs.
“Expansion will deliver these jobs and growth to every nation and region of the UK, whilst Heathrow deliver on the work they have been doing to address environmental concerns; all at a critical time for UK workers.”
Heathrow will be privately financed and costs will not fall on the taxpayer, the government said.
To make sure expansion is delivered with consumers’ interests at heart, the government has asked the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure the scheme remains affordable while meeting the needs of passengers.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “Expansion at Heathrow presents a unique opportunity to deliver a multi-billion pound boost to our economy, strengthen our global links and maintain our position as a world leader in aviation.
“As we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the world’s best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this.
“We have listened to views through our consultations and will ensure a world-class package of measures to help any local communities affected by the expansion.”
The government has also announced the creation of a new Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, which will be an independent expert voice on noise issues, acting as a link between airport operators, airlines and local communities.
To protect the environment, development consent would only be granted on the basis that the new runway is delivered within existing air quality obligations.
London Luton Airport urged the government to expediate the process – which has rumbled on for decades.
Nick Barton, chief executive of London Luton Airport, said: “Now that we have cabinet approval for a third runway, the government owes it to business and the British public to move quickly by getting the plans through parliament.
“We have had uncertainty and indecision for too long.
“The south-east is facing unprecedented demand for air capacity, and the solution does not lie with Heathrow alone.
“London is a system of airports and each needs to be able to reach their full potential for London and the UK to thrive.”