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Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Heathrow... the long haul

Jerry Thomas
The Politics Show

Six years in the making and after a consultation exercise that brought 70,000 responses, a decision has been reached.

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Jerry Thomas looks at the background politics of Heathrow's next runway...

On Thursday 15 January 2009, Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, stood in the House of Commons and announced that, after many years of deliberation, and despite vociferous opposition - both political and environmental, the government was giving the green light to Heathrow's third runway.

Prime ministerial triumph?

Heathrow flight path
Green light to Heathrow's third runway

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had seen off strident opposition within cabinet from Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Milliband and Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn with assurances that the most stringent environmental checks and balances would be put in place to offset pollution, measures which the environment lobby claimed were useless.

The prime minister carried the day in cabinet, pressing the economic case for jobs and the importance of retaining Heathrow's pre-eminent position as the number one airport hub in Europe.

He also sweetened the pill for disaffected backbenchers by emphasising the benefits stemming from the new Heathrow high speed rail link.

End of debate?

So is this the beginning of the end of the debate or just the end of the beginning?

Not if the reaction to the announcement is anything to go by.

The sound and fury by which the decision was met, was immediate - moments after Mr Hoon's statement, local MP for the Heathrow area, left winger, John McDonnell was suspended from the House of Commons for seizing the mace.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, held a press conference outside City Hall denouncing the decision on economic and environmental grounds and pledging to immediately initiate legal opposition to the plan.

Open question?

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Sipson village is at the heart of the Heathrow problem - Andrew Cryan meets some of the residents to gauge their opinions of the runway row...

Despite the green-light, the question remains - will the third runway ever be built?

Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat partyies are opposed to the scheme and long drawn out legal proceedings loom large.

Direct action from such environment groups such as "Greenpeace" and "Plane Stupid" are inevitable and the local villages and communities facing extinction as a consequence of the expansion will fight to the bitter end to oppose the plan.

And with a general election due by 2010 at the latest and with construction not scheduled to start until 2015, the chances of the third runway taking off, remain very much up in the air.

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