John McDonnell: Heathrow expansion will never happen – it cannot meet 4 vital tests

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell believes a 3rd runway at Heathrow will never get built because of the serious environmental issues the expansion would cause. McDonnell, MP for Hayes & Harlington, and a close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a longstanding campaigner against the runway, due to the devastating impact it would have on his constituency. He does not believe Heathrow can get round the problem of air pollution from the runway and associated road traffic.  At a local meeting about Heathrow’s expansion plans, John said: “As soon as any decision is made, Hillingdon and the other boroughs will be straight back in court again”. …“I just don’t think Heathrow is the runner that it might have been with the governments in the past.” There is due to be a vote in Parliament in the summer on the runway; as things stand, the government would win backing for the runway. However, though many Labour MPs are keen supporters, there is a real possibility that Labour may be able to block it – especially if it won a general election. Labour set out 4 tests the runway would have to meet, and currently it cannot pass them. The tests require (1). noise issues to be addressed, (2). air quality to be protected, (3). the UK’s climate change obligations met and (4). growth across the country supported.  


Heathrow expansion will never happen, says McDonnell

Shadow chancellor says third runway will not pass Labour’s tests on suitability

By Jim Pickard (Financial Times)


Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has predicted that a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport will never get built because of the environmental issues around the contentious expansion scheme.

Mr McDonnell, a close ally of Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and longstanding campaigner against Heathrow’s third runway, said he could not see a way for the airport to get around the issue of air quality that concerns local councils.

“As soon as any decision is made, Hillingdon and the other boroughs will be straight back in court again,” said Mr McDonnell, whose Hayes & Harlington constituency is located close to Heathrow.

MPs are expected to vote this summer on whether Heathrow Airport Holdings’ third runway plans should go ahead.

Mr McDonnell is unlikely to be able to block the project at this stage, given that Theresa May’s government backed the third runway in 2016 and many Labour MPs are keen supporters. But there are fears in the aviation industry that Mr McDonnell is powerful enough within his party to be able to block the scheme in the circumstances of a snap general election resulting in a Labour victory.

Labour fought the 2017 election on a manifesto indicating that Heathrow’s third runway would have to satisfy four tests relating to noise, air quality, climate change and economic growth.

But Mr McDonnell has pre-empted that process by saying he cannot see any way that Heathrow would meet the tests.

He argued that proposals by London’s Gatwick airport for a second runway were now “coming through very strongly, quietly I think, as a viable alternative” if Labour got into power in the coming months.

“You’ve got a viable alternative which actually makes more business sense and is more cost-effective,” he said. “I just don’t think Heathrow is the runner that it might have been with the governments in the past.”



Labour manifesto – May 2017:

On aviation: 

Labour recognises the need for additional airport capacity in the South East. We welcome the work done by the Airports Commission, and we will guarantee that any airport expansion adheres to our tests that require noise issues to be addressed, air quality to be protected, the UK’s climate change obligations met and growth across the country supported.

We will continue working with our neighbours through the European Union’s Highways of the Sea programme and by negotiating to retain membership of the Common Aviation Area and Open Skies arrangements.

On air pollution: 

A Labour government will consult on establishing an environmental tribunal with simplified procedures to hear challenges to unlawful government decisions, like those made on the air quality strategy, without engaging in prohibitively expensive processes.

Labour will introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with the Conservative legacy of illegal air quality. We will safeguard habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding our island. We will set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, working with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste.

We will protect our bees by prohibiting neonicotinoids as soon as our EU relationship allows us to do so. We will work with farmers and foresters to plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management. Unlike the Conservatives who attempted to privatise our forests, Labour will keep them in public hands. Our stewardship of the environment needs to be founded on sound principles and based on scientific assessments. We will establish a science innovation fund, working with farmers and fisheries, that will include support for our small scale fishing fleet.


Building a clean economy of the future is the most important thing we must do for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.

The Conservatives’ threatened Ȇbonfire of red tape’ is a threat to our environmental protections and to the quality of our lives. Their record on combating climate change and environmental damage has been one of inaction and broken promises.

The balance needs resetting: our air is killing us, our farms face an uncertain future, our fish stocks are collapsing, our oceans are used as dumping grounds, and our forests, green belt, national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are all under threat.

We will reclaim Britain’s leading role in tackling climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris Agreement and deliver on international commitments to reduce emissions while mitigating the impacts of climate change on developing countries.


Back in December 2015 Labour then reiterated its “4 tests” [somewhat different] which were:

Their four tests for aviation expansion:

1.That robust and convincing evidence was produced that the Commission’s recommendations would provide sufficient capacity;
2. That the UK’s legal climate change obligations could still be met;
3. That local noise and environmental impacts can be managed and minimised;
4. That the benefits of any expansion were not confined to London and the South East.