Chris Grayling is Secretary of State for Transport, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.
Today’s vote on Heathrow is one of the biggest transport infrastructure decisions this country will ever take. And that’s because a lot has happened in UK transport since we last built a full-length runway in the south east of England.
On March 10, 1948, the SS Strathaird left Sydney, bound for Tlbury in Essex. On board was possibly the finest cricket team in history: the Invincibles, led by Don Bradman. They docked on April 16, after a journey of just over a month, before carrying all before them on their tour of England.
In March this year, a flight took off from Perth, Western Australia and landed at Heathrow just over 17 hours later. It didn’t even need to stop.
Nothing illustrates better the revolution we have seen in international transport over the last 70 years. Where once flying was the reserve of the rich and adventurous, it is now an everyday, affordable activity. The south east of England is at the heart of that revolution, with airports carrying millions of passengers to all corners of the globe. And yet we haven’t built a new full-length runway in the region since before the Second World War.
We’ve built the whole of the motorway network since then, launched supersonic flights, opened the country’s first high speed rail network (and started work on the second), and even sent British pioneers on the ultimate journey – into space. So a lot has gone on in UK transport over the last few decades. But it’s perhaps more instructive to examine what has been done elsewhere. Dubai has built a whole new airport. From scratch. Frankfurt has added two runways to its capacity, Paris four, and Amsterdam five. China is building 136 new airports by 2025.
It’s no surprise, then, that Heathrow – once the busiest airport for international passengers in the world – is falling behind. We cannot risk dropping back further. The prospect of a third runway has been in the debating for 50 years. And we owe it to future generations to make the most of opportunities in global trade that only a world-class hub airport can provide.
We are already paying the price of prevarication. Heathrow’s runways are full. That means it cannot add new routes to fast growing destinations. From its peak as the world’s busiest, Heathrow is now seventh in the list. Last year, Britain was one of just three European countries to actually lose air connectivity. The others were Serbia and Moldova. Heathrow has been overtaken by Frankfurt and Amsterdam in Europe as the airport with the most international connections.
It is clear that we won’t achieve our ambitions by being passive or inward-looking. If we want a thriving economy, we have to build it. Expansion at Heathrow would bring massive benefits, including a boost of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy. Heathrow already carries more freight by value than all other UK airports combined. A third runway would enable it to almost double capacity.
Today’s vote is the culmination of a massive amount of work by the government, the Airports Commission, and the aviation industry. The public consultations alone prompted over 80,000 responses. Our National Policy Statement was scrutinised by the Transport Committee, who accepted the case for expansion. So the decision to back a third runway was based on extensive and detailed evidence.
We have also worked exhaustively to ensure that the wider environmental and community impacts of the scheme are addressed. Communities will be supported by up to £2.6bn towards compensation, noise insulation and improvements to public amenities. This is 10 times bigger than under the 2009 third runway proposal, and comparable with the most generous packages in the world.
The airport has offered 125 per cent of the full market value for homes in compulsory and voluntary purchase zones, and expansion will bring legally-binding noise rules and more predictable periods of respite. For the first time ever, we expect a six and a half hour ban on scheduled night flights. I will encourage Heathrow and airlines to work with local communities to propose longer periods of respite.
If we refuse this opportunity, it could be decades before we get another. Among those who oppose the third runway, there is no consensus for an alternative plan, and no agreement on how we might otherwise compete for new routes.
Today’s vote only sets the policy for the scheme. It does not grant development consent. The next step would be for Heathrow to further develop its plans and hold further consultations. Consent for progress would only be provided if the new runway meets the requirements set out in the NPS.
Expansion at Heathrow would offer more flights, more destinations with more frequent services, allow new airlines to increase competition and reduce fares. And it would provide better domestic connections, ensuring the whole of the UK has improved access to the world.
Conversely, without expansion, fares may rise, domestic connections will continue to be squeezed out, and the UK’s hub airport will not be able to achieve the number of international connections our great trading nation needs.
Britain needs to embrace its new position in the world after Brexit. Today, by voting to expand Heathrow, Parliament can play a huge part in helping us achieve that vision, securing the long-term connections the country needs, and sending a resounding message to the international community that Britain is a global trading nation.