The British government has approved a plan to expand London’s Heathrow Airport, drawing strong opposition from senior politicians and environmentalists.
The move Tuesday to add a new runway at the airport was hailed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling as a “momentous step,” but has stoked divisions and provoked protests and threats of legal action from opponents.
The decision to add a third runway, which came following decades of delay and debate, would “send a clear message today that Britain is open for business,” Grayling told parliament on Tuesday.
According to the UK government, the expansion would “bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61 billion,” because the capital would be able to handle more air traffic.
A study conducted by Britain’s independent Airports Commission also shows that the new runway would create up to 70,000 new jobs by 2050 and increase gross domestic product.
The approval, however, has come under attack by critics, like Conservative Lawmaker Zac Goldsmith, who resigned following the announcement.
Goldsmith called the plan “catastrophic,” arguing that it would cause an environmental crisis.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, were among some other politicians who have echoed the same concerns.
“Building a third runway slap bang in the middle of the western suburb to the greatest city on earth is not the right thing to do,” Khan said. “This is the wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain.”
Activists held a protest Tuesday and blocked a fake runway that had been set up outside parliament.
“People are going to be ready to fight this decision,” said protester Annie Wright.
The decision will have to go through parliament in the winter of 2017 and the construction is unlikely to begin before 2020.
If approved, hundreds of homes would have to be torn down to accommodate the runway and the small village of Harmondsworth, on the edge of the airport, would be largely demolished.
“It’s a lovely village. It’s a shame it’s being knocked down,” Paul Cooper, a taxi driver from the village, told AFP.