The 25th of June marked the parliamentary vote on Heathrow’s expansion plans. By most metrics it was a certified mess. MPs ultimately, and overwhelmingly, backed the £14bn third runway due for completion by 2026 by 415 votes to 119, but not before a string of controversies, a torrent of protest and an acrimonious fallout that is still being dealt with.
The clear result wasn’t so much of a surprise; the government is desperate to attract business to the UK post-brexit, something an additional runway will most probably achieve, with Heathrow owners vowing the runway will produce £70bn in economic benefits by 2050, while an extra 700 planes will use the airport daily courtesy of the expansion, which has been discussed heatedly for almost 20 years.
Protesters make their feelings known
First Tony Blair’s Labour government waved through the plans, but the project was put on hold when the coalition government gained power in 2010, planning to return to the subject in five years’ time. The project was eventually backed by the Tories, but fierce infighting and resistance from ‘green’ Tories saw MP Zac Goldsmith resign in 2016, contriving to lose the by-election that followed after a miserable campaign to become London Mayor that was characterised by fearmongering.
His resignation scored political points among the great many environmentalists opposing the expansion. Chris Grayling, infamous for his incompetent reign as the pisspoor incumbent Transport Secretary, and generally regarded as a clueless politician has promised that the plan’s development is contingent on air quality commitments being kept to. Grayling also promised £2.6bn in compensation to affected residents. That money will also go towards noise moderation.
All of this talk doesn’t fill the hearts of those against the project with hope. Grayling has a frankly cack record of holding business to account in Transport, and those air quality commitments sound suspiciously negotiable. Climate change is real, we know this. But in their haste to drum up business and take home a tangible victory from the Brexit ordeal, the government has stuck the big V to nature and wilfully ignored evidence suggesting the expansion would be catastrophic for the environment.
The earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.2C since the industrial revolution, according to a study by various scientists published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Carbon emissions which have yet to affect the climate will soon account for a further 0.6C of warming, leaving the world perilously close to fateful consequences. For three decades scientists have warned those in power, thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers predicting the world’s destruction at the hands of toxic CO2 that leads to – among many other things – famine, climate refugees and mass extinction. For those who enjoy a startling comparison: Heathrow’s expansion plan stands to produce an extra 7.3m tonnes of CO2 aviation emissions from the airport by 2030, equivalent to the entire output of Cyprus over one year.
This vote resembles arguably Britain’s greatest pyrrhic victory since Brexit, particularly when one studies the engine that fuelled the project to parliamentary victory: business. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that climate change will lead to costs amounting to tens of billions of pounds, on top of the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, by 2050. The government’s entrenched belief in short-term strategy may well lead to financial ruin, on top of the environment’s. At which point one imagines the government’s keen support for the runway will have long changed to total abandonment.
But some things never change. None more so than Boris Johnson’s brazen capacity to sacrifice the principles and causes held dearest to his heart. Bojo once said the only “the only reason I wouldn't go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump”. That was 2015, in late June this year he cooed that he was “increasingly admiring” of the orange one.
Discrediting, sure, but the man that repeatedly denied having an affair that ended in an abortion and his sacking from the Tory front bench can walk that one off. More ignominious than his Trump u-turn was his shameless hiding from the Heathrow vote. The sworn enemy of the expansion plan deserted his principles on the day of the vote and fled to Afghanistan on a diplomatic trip, rather than resign like other politicians (Greg Hands resigned shorty before the vote) in protest at the plans. Bojo once said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers on the runway to halt work. It turns out a career in politics is worth more to Bojo than his moral scruples.
All of this spells more turbulence ahead, with the divisive issue likely to be debated and argued for years to come. The PM, however, is confident the plans will be a success, although her fresh belief flies in the face of a now deleted page from the website of one… Theresa May! "Theresa May is firmly against plans to build a third runway... Local people will be devastated by the Government’s decision to proceed.”