UK trade minister quits over Heathrow Airport expansion

Stranded BA passengers at Heathrow airport

Britain’s trade minister resigned yesterday over a planned House of Commons vote on whether to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.

“As the Government will be whipping the vote on Monday [June 25], this means I am resigning from the Government,” Greg Hands, a Conservative member of Parliament representing the constituency of Chelsea and Fulham in greater west London, stated in a tweet.

Hands, who opposes the airport expansion, served for the past two years as minister of trade policy at the Department for International Trade under UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

British media speculated that his abrupt resignation would pressure Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also to step down. Formerly mayor of London, Johnson once said he would “lie down in front of bulldozers” to stop the third Heathrow runway.

Hands said he informed May earlier in the week that he would honor pledges he made to his constituents last year “and vote against the 3rd Heathrow runway.”

Potential plans call for a third runway to the northwest of the existing airport site varying in length from 3,200 m to 3,500 m (10,498 ft. to 11,482 ft.). The estimated £14 billion ($18.5 billion) project also requires an expansion of existing terminal infrastructure or a new satellite terminal, and realignment of the M25 motorway.

Flight movements at Heathrow are capped at 480,000 per year. The airport is at 98% capacity, according to owner Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd.

May’s Conservative government announced in October 2016 that it would support a planning application by Heathrow for the expansion. It published a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) for consultation in February 2017, providing criteria for which a development consent order would be judged. After elections that June, it released a new draft NPS in October.

The UK Parliament’s Transport Select Committee analyzed the case for a third runway and issued a report in March. On June 5, May’s government responded to the report “indicating those recommendations it accepted, partially accepted and rejected, and laid the final NPS before Parliament,” states a summary House of Commons briefing. The chamber is expected to vote June 25 on the expansion.

“The scheme is controversial, particularly among local communities,” the briefing states. “The Labour Party has just announced that the NPS does not meet the party’s four tests for approving Heathrow expansion. There are indications of multiple judicial review applications of the NPS if it is designated following the Parliamentary votes.”

If the House of Commons approves the policy statement, Heathrow can apply for a development consent order, which includes planning permission.



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