Mandelson throws his weight behind third Heathrow runway

15.12.2008   (Evening Standard)

by Nicholas Cecil, Chief Political Correspondent

LORD Mandelson today waded into the Cabinet row over Heathrow by "strongly" backing
the business case for a third runway.

Downing Street also admitted that expansion at the airport had been discussed
"numerous" times by the Cabinet, highlighting how controversial an issue it had
become at the highest level of government.

Just 24 hours after Environment Secretary Hilary Benn warned that EU pollution
laws must not be breached by a third runway, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson
came out fighting the case for a bigger Heathrow.

A source said: "Peter will be one of the ministers in Cabinet making the case
strongly for a third runway, reflecting the views of businesses."

Lord Mandelson lined up alongside Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon and Prime Minister
Gordon Brown supporting a third runway providing the environmental conditions
can be met.

Experts fear the Government will fudge the environmental tests and Mr Benn, Commons
Leader Harriet Harman, Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband and Foreign Secretary
David Miliband are all said to have voiced concerns.

Mr Benn’s comments are said to have caused "irritation" in No 10 and the Cabinet
appeared to be heading for a showdown.

However, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman denied there was any Cabinet
split.   He said: "The Secretary of State for Transport has been pointing out that
it’s important we do take into account all the environmental issues. That is the
government position."

Government insiders are pushing the idea that instead of giving the go-ahead,
Mr Hoon could relax regulations on the two existing runways.

They believe the row could be contained largely to constituencies, particularly
those in south-west London already heavily affected by aircraft noise, by ending
runway alternation and instead allowing mixed mode — both take-offs and landings
— on both runways for more, or the whole of the day.

Such a move is already being proposed from 2015 to 2020 as an interim measure,
before a new runway could be built.

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