End in sight for most-delayed journey?

Plane near Heathrow Image copyright PA

You know the feeling.

It's been a long, long flight, and the in-flight movie system is on the blink.

The kid that started the journey off as being cute has kicked you in the back of the seat for the last couple of hours, and for 45 minutes you've been going round, and round, and round, and round, making circles in the sky.

Suddenly, the crew take their seats and it's time to land. Praise be!

But then, once you're on the ground, you sigh to yourself again. You have to stretch up to grapple your heavy carry on out of the overhead locker, then the queue at passport control, then that sinking feeling at the carousel as the number of bags on the belt dwindles.

Noise levels

Yup, yours is stuck somewhere in the system and, oh dear, as you head for the train to get back into town, there are engineering works - frankly, it might have been easier to stay on the plane.

The government wants you to see its decision finally to approve a third runway as a triumphant landing - a break with past dithering and indecision, a bold statement that makes the clichés ring true - "We are open for business", even after the referendum we are an "outward-looking nation", and the prime minister is willing to make the difficult decisions in the "national interest".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Zac Goldsmith has been a longstanding critic of plans to expand Heathrow

Most businesses are delighted (just don't mention Gatwick). Even Labour is now saying it wants to put "years of procrastination and delay" behind us.

It is fair to say that Theresa May's government has been able to decide when others have not. The most recent delay came when David Cameron did not want to damage Zac Goldsmith's chances in the London Mayoral election - not that it saved him from defeat in the end.

But the decision isn't the end of it. MPs won't vote on the plan for Heathrow until the end of next year after a more detailed blueprint is produced.

Hundreds of homes need to be demolished in west London. With that and the noise levels there will be enormous resistance among the residents of the area.

And that translates directly into political resistance - not least from two members of the cabinet, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening. And a by-election before Christmas with the resignation of Mr Goldsmith, who looks certain to hold to his vow of quitting as an MP over the decision.

Then there will be complaints in the courts - judicial reviews likely to be launched within days, possibly from rival airports or environmental groups.

And of course, what about the rest of the country? Ministers say this is a decision that will benefit everyone - the SNP supports Heathrow, but there is long-term frustration outside the South East that this decision is part of a continued and obsessive focus on London.

Yet ministers will be relieved at least to have got this far. Theresa May was 11 years old when the first inquiry into expanding runways in the South East began. Given the long, long history of prevarication, this part of the journey has been painful enough.

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