Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle has already publicly ruled out a third runway at Heathrow, doing a U-turn on Gordon Brown’s firm support for expanding the airport.
She has also rejected Boris Johnson’s idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary, largely on cost grounds, branding it an “unworkable fantasy”. A second runway at Gatwick cannot be built before 2019 under a planning agreement.
Ms Eagle, though, is understood to have seen such a development at the Sussex airport as a stronger contender than expanding Stansted, if the South-East needed extra aviation capacity.
Gatwick is opening new routes, including to the Far East, as it seeks to become a rival to Heathrow while Stansted still has spare capacity.
The shadow cabinet minister is adamant that the Davies Commission into the UK’s airport capacity should not be pre-empted. While Labour wanted Sir Howard Davies, the former head of the London School of Economics leading the review, to publish its final report before the 2015 election, it will await its conclusions before drawing up its new policy. Supporting expansion at Gatwick, or Stansted, had also not been agreed by the shadow cabinet.
However, both party leader Ed Miliband and Ms Eagle remain “sceptical” about another runway at Heathrow.Labour, like the Conservatives, is divided over the future of the west London airport.
Labour party position – to wait for more information.
Crawley Labour members told to toe party line over Gatwick runway
When the Crawley News asked each council member individually for their views last week, we received a call from Peter Lamb, head of the council’s Labour group, saying he was concerned posing the question now could cause division in his group.
And councillor Lamb has subsequently admitted e-mailing Labour councillors reminding them of the party position – that they would all wait for more information – despite admitting some of those councillors have opposing views.
All the Labour councillors bar one – Bill Ward – declined to express a firm opinion either way.
Peter Barclay, joint vice-chairman of Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign, said he felt the Labour councillors had been gagged.
He said: “I know a couple of the Labour councillors and they are against the runway. These councillors should be allowed to exercise their independence. One hopes they would reflect the views of their constituents and speak their own mind, rather than toe the party line.
“This is a local issue. They shouldn’t be swayed by party politics. Speaking your mind is one of the bastions of British democracy. They shouldn’t be frightened to express their views, and I’m quite surprised.
“Our view, of course, is that one [runway] is enough.”
Gatwick Diamond Business’ Keith Pordum is for a second runway, and said this was an important issue that needed people to speak up now.
He said: “We want jobs here. If they don’t come from Gatwick, then where will they come from? Gatwick Airport is the economic heartbeat of the region. I expect the proposals for a second runway to be supported – and we need people to speak up now.”
Labour group leader Peter Lamb denied “whipping” his councillors into toeing the party line – but did accept an email had gone out after the News had got in touch “reminding” his group of the party position – and that although they hadn’t spoken up publicly, some of the Labour group were against a second runway.
He said: “There are one or two members who feel that way [that the runway should not be built].
“We are going to wait until there is some evidence.
“We’re not going to set out a position on the most significant decision for the town until we know the details – that would be irresponsible.”
Denying he had told people how to respond to our survey, he added he had sent an email and “reminded people what had been agreed” at an earlier meeting in November where the issue had been discussed.