Leader comment: Heathrow runway boost will be a long time coming

Expansion of Heathrow airport has been approved by the government but there will now be consultation before it becomes final. Picture: Getty
Expansion of Heathrow airport has been approved by the government but there will now be consultation before it becomes final. Picture: Getty
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The decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow to expand UK airport capacity has got to be welcomed - if for no other reason than it is a decision.

The politics of heathrow expansion have been dificult and by and large seem to be business interests in conflcit with the interests of the people who live around the airport. Many MPs have been comprehensively lobbied. But in the end there is a long-awaited resolution and this government has done what no other governemnt has brought itself to do.

And if the forecasts are right - and this issue has been thoroughly examined, make no mistake about that, then this will be a significant boost for the UK economy. It has to be wondered what part Brexit played in the decision. The Government have now committed to a huge amount of construction, as well as the runway there is the new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point and work on the biggest project of all, HS2, is scheduled to begin next year.

It has long been a tactic of succesive governments that if the country should find itself in an economic downturn public spending can be brought out to keep people working and to keep people spending. If the Brexit vote leads to the sort of downturn that some have forecast then it might be very prudent indeed to have heavy work programmes lined up. In fact the governemnt has reversed its austerity policy in the light of Brexit and the chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated he wil be willing to borrow to keep government spending up.

The deep irony here of course is another consequence of Brexit - stopping the free movement of labour within Europe - might mean the projects take longer because unemployment in the UK is at a relative low. That, however might change as a consequence of Brexit as well.

And this is not an instant cure, any new runway will not be operating until around 2025, and chances are we will have been out of Europe for a while by then.

But this does seem as if it is good news for Scotland with commitments that about £200m would be spent in Scotland, the creation of up to 16,000 jobs and £10m for new domestic routes, and the Scottish government had already given Heathrow their support.

Although there is a sneaking feeling that that support came because there was also a committment to investigate Prestwick Airport as a potential site for a logistics hub to help with the building of the new runway, and also of passenger routes to Preswick.

The Scottish government are the surprise owners of Prestwick Airport and have come under fire for the purchase and also for the lack of any plan to get it back in to profit and therefore attractive for selling back to the private sector.

Perhaps that committment to investigate those possibiities - which does not seem like much of a committment - was an offer the Scottish government could not refuse to accept. Let us hope that it is kept, and that investigations prove fruitful and there is a better future for Prestwick.