Proposals to expand an existing runway at Heathrow or build a second runway at Gatwick were rejected.
Scotland will see “significant benefits” from construction of a third runway at Heathrow ministers said yesterday after the UK government confirmed a “truly momentous” decision on expanding airport capacity.
Prestwick could see the first gains with a new passenger route and investment connected to construction and servicing of an expanded Heathrow, while passengers flying from other Scottish airports have been told they can expect better links to London, more competition and lower fares.
A public consultation will now be held on the impact of a third runway at the west London hub before the final decision is put to MPs for a vote in the winter of 2017/18. The proposal was chosen ahead of a plans for second runway at Gatwick Airport, or extending one of the existing runways at Heathrow.
Flights could be taking off from the new runway by 2025. Heathrow bosses said the airport was ready to deliver an expansion plan that is “fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK”.
The UK Department for Transport claimed that the new runway will bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61 billion.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who was 11 years old when a third runway was first recommended at Heathrow, moved to head off possible cabinet resignations by giving ministers freedom to speak out against the government’s decision.
The announcement sparked an immediate split, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calling the project “undeliverable”. Mr Johnson predicted that legal challenges by local authorities under the Heathrow flight path would derail the project.
Last night the former Conservative London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith resigned as MP for Richmond Park over his long-standing opposition to a third runway, forcing a by-election he said would “send a message to government”.
Members of a cabinet sub-committee that included Scottish Secretary David Mundell gave their unanimous backing to a third runway. Announcing the decision in the Commons, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “The step that the government is taking today is truly momentous.
He added: “We’ve thought long and hard about this. The committee considered all three options. There were three very good options on the table.
“But we believe a third runway for Heathrow is the best option for our future. It’s the best for the whole country to create better connectivity to the different regions of the United Kingdom and to provide the best trade links to the world.”
Mr Mundell said he was “absolutely committed” to use the decision to secure improved flight connections for Scotland. Six new routes to regional airports across the UK have already been promised by 2030, including a proposal for a link with Prestwick.
The Scottish Secretary said he would also argue for a second scheduled flight between Inverness and Heathrow, as well as a new route for Dundee Airport.
Mr Mundell said: “A new runway at Heathrow will provide a major boost for the Scottish economy for decades to come. It will mean better air links for business, and brings the promise of greater competition pushing down on fares for everyone.”
He added: “The number of flights between Scotland and Heathrow has fallen by about 25 per cent over the past ten years, and to Gatwick by 20 per cent. We need to work to ensure that is reversed.”
The Scottish Government, which owns the loss-making Prestwick and gave its backing for a third runway, welcomed the decision. Economy secretary Keith Brown said: “The potential for a logistics hub to be based at Glasgow Prestwick Airport is also an important part of the Heathrow offer.
“It would support the pre-fabrication of components for the construction phase, with potential for future work beyond the launch of the third runway, bringing strong economic benefits to the airport and the wider Ayrshire economy.
“It’s now crucial that the UK government starts work on this immediately and puts in place measures to secure guaranteed access to Heathrow for Scotland’s airports. There can be no further costly delays if Scotland, and the UK as a whole, is to reap the rewards on offer.”
Expansion at Heathrow was also welcomed by Highlands and Islands Airports and the Scottish Council for Development & Industry, but environmental groups said a third runway would raise pollution levels in London that already breach legal limits.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said the decision would “create a carbon bomb” and accused ministers of misleading the public on the environmental impact of the scheme.
The decision was also criticised by Edinburgh Airport, which warned that turning Heathrow into the UK’s undisputed hub airport would create a “powerful monopoly” in the south-east of England that would undermine the creation of international links elsewhere.
Chief executive Gordon Dewar said: “Scotland’s airports are less dependent on London than they have ever been. Our passengers tell us that they want to fly directly and we believe a larger Heathrow will in effect be a powerful monopoly that could undermine long-haul direct international services from every part of the UK.”