The British government has announced plans to expand Europe’s busiest airport – Heathrow, just west of London.
It intends to spend the equivalent of up to 20 billion euros to build a third runway almost doubling the passenger capacity and increasing the number of flights to more than 700,000 a year by 2030.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was vital for the UK’s economic future.
“After decades of delay we are showing that we will take the big decisions when they’re the right decisions for Britain,” Prime Minister Theresa May told London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was the “wrong decision for London and the whole of Britain”.
“The government are running roughshod over Londoners’ views – just five months ago I was elected as Mayor on a clear platform of opposing a new runway at Heathrow but in favour of a new runway at Gatwick Airport where you get the jobs, you get the growth, there aren’t any problems around noise,” Khan said in a statement.
“I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months,” he added.
The Heathrow plan now faces years of legal challenges over noise and air pollution.
London’s other main airport – Gatwick, which is south of the capital – has had its expansion hopes rejected with this decision.
Gatwick airport said it was disappointed and this was “not the right answer for Britain”.
It had putting forward a cheaper, less complex expansion there saying that would also effect fewer people with noise and air pollution.
On Gatwick transport minister Chris Grayling said: “Gatwick, despite not being selected today, remains a key part of our national transport picture, and will continue to be so in the future.”
Speaking in the British parliament, Chris Grayling said: “There will be a full and proper consultation … we will do it in as timely a way as we can.”
But he added the public consultation process was not likely to change its position: “The government has decided very clearly today on its recommendation. We’re not entering this process with a view to changing our minds.”
The government has previously said the whole approval process would be completed by late 2017 or early 2018, but the runway itself would not be open before 2025 at the earliest.
Grayling also said the government would be publishing new evidence relating to the air quality implications of the project in the coming days.
The divisions within the UK government over the issue were highlighted by statements from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
The former Mayor of London, who represents a constituency near Heathrow, called the third runway plan “undeliverable” adding, “I think it very likely it will be stopped”.
“I do think that building a third runway slap bang in the middle of the western suburbs of the greatest city on Earth is not the right thing to do,” Johnson said.
Zac Goldsmith, a member of parliament in May’s Conservative Party, said he would resign over the issue, causing a local election in his constituency which is near the airport.
He is expected to run as an independent potentially threatening May’s already slim majority in the House of Commons.
People living near the airport promised protests and legal challenges.
Anti-Heathrow expansion protester Neil Keveran said: “Literally I live this side of the road, 54 paces that side of the road, behind this facade, will be the runway. That’ll be the boundary fence and then the runway. And nowhere else in Europe do they build their runways directly in the heart of residential areas over their cities.”
He added: “I don’t believe the runway will be delivered, I think legal challenges, and if necessary direct action, will prevent the growth of Heathrow.”
Lawyers said opponents could delay the decision on the 18-billion-pound project in the courts but were unlikely to be able to block it.
Business representatives welcomed the move with the employers group the Confederation of British Industry saying this will benefit companies across the country.
“Pressing ahead with key infrastructure projects like this will provide not only a welcome economic stimulus, but will show the world that we are well and truly open for business as we negotiate our exit from the EU,” CBI President Paul Drechsler said.