LONDON (Reuters) - Britain laid out its proposals for a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport on Thursday, launching a public consultation on a huge infrastructure project the government sees as key to its post-Brexit future.
The government backed a $22 billion expansion of Heathrow in October, ending 25 years of indecision with an ambitious plan to boost global trade links following the vote to leave the European Union.
While the government says the new runway is vital for the economy and businesses, critics are concerned over the impact on local residents and the environment.
A policy statement unveiled on Thursday sets out what planning regulations the proposed runway will need to meet to be approved and outline why Heathrow, on the western edge of London, is the preferred option.
“By backing the northwest runway at Heathrow airport and publishing our proposals today, we are sending a clear signal that when we leave the EU, Britain is open for business,” Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told lawmakers.
“Doing nothing is no longer a choice we can afford to make.”
To assuage critics, the transport department said that compensation worth up to 2.6 billion pounds will be made available to those affected, and that development consent will only be granted “if the new runway can be delivered within existing air quality limits and climate change obligations”.
The consultation will last 16 weeks and will close on May 25. The policy statement will also be scrutinised by lawmakers, ahead of a vote on the new runway, which is expected in late 2017 or early 2018.
Heathrow is the main hub of British Airways, which is owned by IAG (ICAG.L).
Virgin Atlantic said it hoped the expansion would improve consumer choice at the airport.
“We support Heathrow expansion provided that it delivers for passengers a transformative increase in airline competition and genuine value for money,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; editing by Stephen Addison