The British government’s decision on Tuesday to clear a third runway at Heathrow prompted the resignation of a ruling Conservative MP and exposed divisions within the cabinet, but Indians living around the busy airport hailed it.
Successive governments postponed a decision on the sensitive issue for more than a decade, but the Theresa May government said it opted for Heathrow instead of Gatwick or other London airports to send the message that it was open for business after the June 23 vote to exit the European Union.
As political parties and stakeholders reiterated their known positions for and against the third runway, Indian community leaders said they saw it as an employment opportunity for the large Indian and Asian community living around Heathrow.
Many members of the Indian community are already employed at various levels in Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports.
Welcoming the decision, Harsev Bains of the Indian Workers Association told Hindustan Times: “The Indian diaspora, historically located in Southall, west London due to the proximity of Heathrow, have come to rely heavily on key employers at Heathrow airport after the demise of manufacturing industry under years of Tories rule under the premiership of the late Margaret Thatcher.
“Local businesses and religious institutions will benefit from increased tourism in the area,” Bains said.
Senior Labour MP Virendra Sharma said: “I’ve changed my mind on the Heathrow expansion for the simple reason that Heathrow have engaged, listened and changed their plans. Now that Heathrow has accepted the Airports Commission conditions, west London can say ‘yes’ to the jobs, apprenticeships and investment that expansion will bring.”
He added: “Heathrow is the backbone of the west London economy and now that there is appropriate mitigation and compensation in place for local communities, I’m pleased that the government have made the right decision.”
Arguments against the third runway at Heathrow revolve around pollution, noise and the flattening of some nearby villages to make way for Britain’s first major runway since World War 2. London mayor Sadiq Khan is among those who opposed the project.
Arguments for the extra runway at Heathrow are mainly commercial and economic: that it would add hundreds of billions of pounds to the British economy, that Heathrow is currently operating at full capacity amid greater demand, and that new technology makes flights less noisy and less polluting – a claim dismissed by critics.
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond and a long-standing opponent of the third runway, was scheduled to announce his resignation from parliament and contest the ensuing by-election as an independent.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who famously announced he would be the first to lie before a bulldozer if the runway was to be laid at Heathrow, insisted he would continue to oppose the project even while holding a seat in the cabinet that cleared it.
Residents of villages that will be flattened to make way for the runway said they would continue to oppose it, while activists said legal and others challenges to the project would mean it will be years before it materialises.