Brown poised to face down Heathrow opposition

10.1.2009   (Telegraph)

Gordon Brown is poised to face down Cabinet opposition and back the building
of a third runway at Heathrow.

By Andrew Porter, Political Editor

On Monday, a powerful coalition of business groups and unions will urge Mr Brown
to publicly announce the go-ahead for the airport’s expansion.

The decision had originally been expected before Christmas but was delayed until
the New Year.

The Prime Minister is expected to make the final decision this weekend after
last-minute lobbying from Cabinet ministers.  An announcement could be made as
early as next week.

More than 50 Labour MPs and several Cabinet ministers are opposed to the new runway but Mr Brown is
understood to be in favour.

Crucially, the Prime Minister is backed by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary who has made it known that he strongly sides with business
on the issue.

Mr Brown believes that large infrastructure projects are crucial to boosting
employment in Britain during the recession.   The Conservatives are opposed to
the third runway and Labour believes that the issue is an important "dividing
line" between the parties.

The go-ahead will be tied to the airport meeting legally-binding commitments
on pollution and noise.   Future promises to build new high-speed rail links may
also be made to win over Labour opposition.

Among those who have questioned the plans are Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader, and Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary.

Their opposition has infuriated some other ministers who claim it is a "London
Labour faction" that is trying to block the expansion.   However, ministers are
unlikely to resign in protest at a decision to allow the third runway.

On Monday, Mr Brown will be able to point to what he sees as an unanswerable
case from the business community – including the CBI, the British Chambers of
Commerce, London First, the TUC and individual unions.

A CBI survey of business opinion recently found that  9 of 10 companies in London or areas close to Heathrow said
the airport was ‘vital’ or ‘very important.’     85% said a 3rd runway was either
‘important’ or ‘very important’ to their business.   [This was an OEF survey, in
December 2007   – link ].

Labour MPs are expected to try and force a vote on the plans in the House of
Commons, but Mr Brown has the power to approve the project without MPs backing
if necessary.

Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, has pointed out that there are tens of thousands
of jobs dependent on Heathrow and if it began to lose its role as a major hub
that employment would be threatened. He would ensure that all climate change emissions
targets are fulfilled.

Mr Brown will present the decision as vital for the country in keeping Heathrow
as one of the world’s key international airports. If expansion was not agreed
then it could slip behind other European airports as a vital "hub" he will say.

Last weekend Mr Brown announced he planned to create 100,000 jobs and many of
those are likely to be in the construction industry helped by projects like Heathrow.


see also


New poll shows 95% of businesses feel Heathrow expansion will make little or
no difference to them

Only 4% of British businesses believe they will benefit from expanding Heathrow.
95% said it would make little or no difference. In contrast, 23% of businesses
believe they will be helped by a new high-speed rail line to the North, as proposed
by David Cameron. This proves how wrong the Government is to say that British
business is crying out for Heathrow expansion. In fact, only a tiny proportion
of businesses stand to benefit.   5.12.2008     More …..