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Wed June 16 2021

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Airport expansion planning returns to melting pot

27 Jun 16 Government plans to face down controversy and give final approval for construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport have reportedly fallen victim to the political and governmental turmoil of the EU referendum result.

Could Boris Island yet rise?
Could Boris Island yet rise?

According to Westminster insiders’ website PoliticsHome.com, government business managers had pencilled in 7th or 8th July to announce a Heathrow go-ahead. They know that it is a controversial issue but hoped that announcing it in the wake of the even-longer awaited Chilcott report on the Iraq War might soften the outcry.

Among vehement opponents of Heathrow expansion is Boris Johnson, who is now the bookies’ favourite to be the next prime minister. When he was mayor of London, Mr Johnson promoted the idea of an entirely new airport to be built in the Thames Estuary, dubbed ‘Boris Island’.

However, it might be a while before any UK government is in a position to embark on any of these projects. Boris Island, outline designed by architect Foster & Partners, has been costed at £25bn to build plus a further £25bn to put in the necessary supporting road and rail links.

The cost of a third airport at Heathrow was put at £18.6bn by the government’s own Airports Commission, which was set up to recommend what action to take. The commission produced its final report and recommendation a year ago, in July 2015. The Heathrow expansion involves putting part of the M25 motorway into a tunnel.

Robert Barnstone, campaign co-ordinator for pressure group Stop Heathrow Expansion, said: “If a leading Brexiteer and Heathrow expansion opponent, such as Boris Johnson, becomes the new prime minister this autumn, it could mean a very different situation on the question of runway capacity in London & the southeast.

“David Cameron, with his term as prime minister now entering its final phase, is unlikely to want to cause further damage within his own ranks on whether the highly-controversial expansion of Heathrow goes ahead. A decision previously pencilled in for a fortnight’s time now looks substantially less likely.”

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Heathrow Airport itself said that the UK’s imminent exit from the European Union only strengthened its case for expansion.  “Only Heathrow can help Britain be the great trading nation connecting all regions of the UK to the world. It is the keystone that connects businesses of every size to markets across the world as the UK’s only global hub airport," its statement said.

“Global connections are critical for a new outward-looking UK to help our businesses and economy to thrive – and with expansion we can deliver up to 40 new destinations on top of the 83 we serve now.

“We are confident that the government will make the right choice for the future of the UK, putting the interests of the country first.

“We look forward to working with the government and its agencies on next steps.”

Those who consider the Boris Island plan a fanciful idea might consider the history of the High Speed 1 railway line. British Rail and the entire railway establishment proceeded for years on the assumption that the best route was alongside existing lines through Maidstone and South London. It took years of argument before Arup’s alternative vision of going via Ebbsfleet and East London won the day.

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