Britain’s government has approved plans to build a third runway at Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, despite previous opposition from some lawmakers including members of the cabinet.
The long-discussed expansion project’s approval was announced in parliament on Tuesday by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling following a cabinet meeting.
Mr Grayling described the decision as a “historic moment”, which had been taken in the “national interest”.
"As we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the world's best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this," he said.
Already full to capacity, nearly 80 million passengers passed through Heathrow in 2017, making it the sixth busiest airport in the world.
The debate over expanding airports in the south east of England has been ongoing for decades. Heathrow was recommended as the site for a new runway by an independent commission in 2015 based on the economic benefits the expansion would bring.
However, plans for the third runway have been consistently opposed by environmental campaigners, local residents as well as some parliamentarians.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who is the member of parliament for the west London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, has previously said he will lie down in front of bulldozers to prevent the runway being built.
The plans need parliamentary approval to be carried forward, with a vote taking place within 21 days.
It is not known whether UK prime minister Theresa May will give cabinet members a free vote on the issue, although reports have suggested she will be reliant on support from opposition parties Labour and the SNP for the plans to pass.
Heathrow airport is owned by a number of corporations including Ferrovial, Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corporation, which will need to secure planning permission before the slated construction start date of 2021.
Conservative parliamentarian Zac Goldsmith, representative for the constituency of Richmond, which lies under the Heathrow flight path, criticised the government’s decision in a sarcastic Twitter post on Tuesday.
“Happy #worldenvironmentday everyone. Government has picked a fantastic day to commit billions of pounds of public money to help a giant foreign owned corporate massively increase air-pollution for millions of its citizens. Hooray! #Heathrow,” he wrote.
While Greenpeace’s UK executive director John Sauven said approving the runway on World Environment Day was “like handing out free cigarettes on World Health Day”.
"This airstrip alone will load the atmosphere with as much extra carbon as some entire countries pump out. It would make Londoners' air more dangerous to breathe, contributing to an air pollution crisis that's already cutting short thousands of lives,” Mr Sauven said.
But the plans have been given the seal of approval by many voices in Britain’s business community.
Josh Hardie, from the Confederation of British Industry, praised the government’s decision, saying that expanding aviation capacity and creating new flight routes was critical to ensuring Britain’s success as a global player post-Brexit.
"Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it's crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible," Mr Hardie said.