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Cabinet said to be ‘falling behind’ on Heathrow expansion decision (as runway sub-committee struggles)
The Standard reports that insiders (in the Cabinet?) say the Cabinet sub-Committee is having a very difficult time deciding what to do about a runway, and the schedule is slipping. It is not likely to be announced by the Autumn Statement by George Osborne on 25th November. The meetings of the Economic Affairs (Airports) Sub-Committee are secretive and Cabinet will not reveal even their dates. However, the Standard has been told that last week an “informal” gathering of its members was briefed by Sir Howard Davies, and that David Cameron and George Osborne also had updates separately from Sir Howard. “Other ministers at the gathering raised questions but none of them were seen to pose an insurmountable challenge to another runway in west London.” Some sort of announcement still should be made before the Commons rises on 17th December. A second official meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee is understood to be due in the next week or two, so the DfT officials can present their analysis of the Airport Commission’s final report. It is understood that the full Cabinet would be able to discuss the sub-Committee’s decision, and this could happen in December. The Standard says: “Few Cabinet ministers are expected to defy Mr Osborne and block a 3rd runway.”
Cabinet ‘falling behind’ on Heathrow expansion decision
By NICHOLAS CECIL and JOE MURPHY
11.11.2015 (Evening Standard)
The Cabinet decision on Heathrow’s third runway is slipping behind schedule, it was claimed today.
Insiders say the choice over whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick is now unlikely to be made clear to Parliament this month, as originally promised.
A secretive Cabinet sub-committee — whose meetings the Government will not even officially confirm will take place — is due to recommend which airport should be allowed to grow.
However, the Standard has been told that last week an “informal” gathering of members of the Economic Affairs (Airports) Sub-Committee was briefed by Sir Howard Davies, head of the Airports Commission.
David Cameron and George Osborne are also understood to have been updated by Sir Howard separately.
Other ministers at the gathering raised questions but none of them were seen to pose an insurmountable challenge to another runway in west London.
But No 10 has doubts, according to one Whitehall insider, that a final decision can be taken this month.
In the summer Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin promised MPs “clear direction” by this autumn on the Government’s airport plans.
Another source said the original intention was to announce the decision around the time of the Autumn Statement on November 25.
But a senior Tory figure, who will play a key role in the decision, told the Standard to “wait and see” whether a decision would be made by the end of the year.
No 10 stressed Mr Cameron’s commitment was for a decision before the end of 2015. A second official meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee was scheduled — believed to be for this week or shortly afterwards — so that Department for Transport officials can present their analysis of the Airport Commission’s final report, which strongly recommended Heathrow expansion.
Senior ministers say the deliberations have been slowed by the sheer number of documents and by extra research commissioned in Whitehall.
Mr Cameron is believed to have promised Cabinet opponents of a third runway that the decision on expansion will be discussed at full Cabinet. This would let senior Tories, such as International Development Secretary Justine Greening, MP for Putney, to formally state their position.
This Cabinet meeting could take place next month, before the Government’s verdict is announced in advance of the Commons rising on December 17.
Heathrow is the strong frontrunner and there are no signs yet that the decision could be delayed until next year. If it was, Gatwick would be seen as regaining ground on its rival.
Few Cabinet ministers are expected to defy Mr Osborne and block a third runway.
However, a key factor over the decision is thought to be whether Mr Cameron is prepared for the flak he would almost certainly get if the Government opts for Heathrow, given that he promised before the 2010 election that a third runway would not happen, “no ifs no buts”.
Today Transport for London warned of congestion “on a scale we have not seen” on road, rail and Tube corridors into central London if a third runway were not backed up with massive investment to improve above-ground transport access to Heathrow. (see below)
The Commission left a lot of areas without the proper details that government would need to make a decision. This work has had to be done by the DfT. The airports have also been giving the DfT extra details of their plans, environmental mitigations etc.
Evening Standard Comment:
Procrastination is not a sensible aviation policy
Evening Standard Editorial
The Government was meant to make its final decision on the Davies Commission’s recommendation to back a third runway at Heathrow this month.
It now looks like this isn’t going to happen. The political opposition to Heathrow expansion is not diminishing. Far from it: the present Mayor and both the main mayoral candidates, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, are opposed.
London MPs and many council leaders have also expressed opposition. Their concerns are mostly about noise and pollution, and business leaders are worried about higher landing charges. Transport for London has expressed concerns about the dangers of increased congestion if Heathrow is expanded without investment in access to the airport. In other words, public sentiment is itself a political factor: democracy is intervening in the Government’s decision. And the issue has yet to come before a full Cabinet, as the PM promised.
The Davies Commission, which was meant to put an end to the arguments on aviation expansion by dint of being authoritative, is not proving conclusive.
Yet it would be folly for the Government to respond in its customary fashion by kicking the issue again into the long grass as governments have done for decades. It can decide for Heathrow or Gatwick or for both — reopening the arguments about an Estuary airport or for Stansted is unrealistic — but it must make its mind up quickly.
Procrastination is not a strategy. Mr Cameron should decide, one way or another, how we are to expand aviation capacity and pronounce on the Davies report by Christmas.
This was always a political decision rather than about weighing up statistics. Now he should take a view, and then get on with implementing his decision.
Heathrow third runway risks grinding London transport to a halt.