Telegraph reports Whitehall sources saying Cameron ‘preparing to drop opposition to Heathrow 3rd runway’

The Telegraph reports (Whitehall sources say) that David Cameron is believed to have decided it would not be too politically damaging to back a Heathrow runway. David Cameron personally pledged in 2009 that there would be no Heathrow runway (No ifs, No buts) but soon changed his mind. The government insists it will make an announcement on the next phase of the runway process before Christmas, but how firmly it will be backing one runway option is not yet clear. It may be Osborne who takes control over the issue, keen to be seen as building infrastructure..There is then to be a new public consultation on this in early 2016. David Cameron apparently hopes – as was always the intention of setting up the Commission, during the coalition government – that the Commission’s recommendation would remove responsibility for the decision from himself. It would cover him from blame for breaking a pledge, and make that “politically acceptable.”  The problem is that the Airports Commission has produced vast reams of material in its reports. Few – including few politicians – have read much of it.  Its recommendation is not in fact reflected in the details of the reports. The economic benefit of “up to £147 billion over 60 years” to the UK economy may really be as little as £1.4 billion.  The regional airports would suffer, as would UK carbon targets. The noise and air pollution issues are not resolved, as the Commission’s work shows.


Heathrow: Cameron ‘preparing to drop opposition to third runway’

The government is preparing to announce the next phase for airport expansion within weeks, ahead of a new public consultation on increasing aviation capacity

By Tim Ross, Senior Political Correspondent (Telegraph)
7 Nov 2015

David Cameron has decided it would be politically safe to back a third runway at Heathrow, despite previously promising to block the expansion of Britain’s busiest airport, Whitehall sources have said.

The government is preparing to announce the next phase for airport expansion within weeks, ahead of a new public consultation on increasing aviation capacity.

The Prime Minister has been wrestling with a “difficult decision” over whether to approve a third runway at Heathrow because he promised before the 2010 election that he would oppose such a plan.

However, Whitehall figures said Mr Cameron has been offered a way out by the independent Davies Commission, which decisively recommended expanding Heathrow while leaving the door ajar to potentially extending Gatwick.

Government insiders say that the Prime Minister believes that the Davies Commission’s strong recommendation in favour of the new Heathrow plan would make it politically acceptable for him to reverse his opposition to the earlier third runway proposal.

Officials are preparing for an announcement before Christmas on how the aviation plans will progress.

Increasing aviation capacity in the South East represents one of the most expensive and controversial infrastructure decisions facing the new Conservative government.

A number of MPs including Cabinet minister and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, have vocally opposed a third runway at Heathrow,while others oppose expanding Gatwick.

However, Sir Howard Davies, who chaired the commission examining the future of aviation capacity in the South East, recommended decisively that the government should allow Heathrow to expand because this would lead to more jobs, and wider economic benefits than extending Gatwick. [Some of the Commission’s own advisors on economics say the claims should be treated with caution. Letter to the Commission from Prof Peter Mackie and Brian Pearce. May 2015.   See details below.    AW note]

One Whitehall source said: “There will be some sort of announcement next month. Officials are still analysing data. The decision will be for the Prime Minister but it is difficult for him because he made this ‘no ifs, no buts’ promise not to build a third runway.”

The Davies Commission was so clearly in favour of Heathrow over Gatwick that “in the Prime Minister’s mind” it would be safe to choose a third runway at Heathrow. It’s not yet clear whether the public would agree, the source said.

The Chancellor is likely to want a decision as soon as possible, given how he has sought to brand the Conservatives as the champions of new building schemes.

“It would be difficult for the Chancellor to stand up and say ‘we are the builders’ and then when he has been given a really clear direction to build Heathrow, to say, ‘actually, we’re the pragmatists,’” one government insider said.

Mr Cameron is understood to want all the analysis to be completed before he comes to a verdict.

It has been suggested that the Chancellor will take control over the issue, making the crucial announcement about the government’s preferred option.

This would potentially save the Prime Minister from awkward questions over a policy reversal.

Government sources suggested that an announcement formally responding to the Davies Commission may not be part of Mr Osborne’s Autumn Statement on November 25 but could be made separately in December.

Justine Greening, the Tory MP for Putney and International Development Secretary, has promised to continue fighting against expansion at Heathrow.

She has told her constituents that she has been assured by Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, that there will be a new public consultation on plans before a final decision is taken.

The high costs of expanding Heathrow and the impact on the environment, including noise and air pollution, remain the subjects of considerable argument.

Heathrow has promised to charge airlines higher fees for landing noisier and more polluting aircraft at the airport in future. “We will encourage the world’s quietest aircraft to use Heathrow, charging more for noisier aircraft to land and quieter aircraft less and introduce “green slots” so that only the quietest and cleanest aircraft can use the capacity provided by a new runway,” the group  [which group?? – John Holland-Kaye ] said in a new report to MPs.

“We are clear – Heathrow expansion should only go ahead within strict environmental limits on noise, local air quality and in line with the UK’s climate change targets.” [None of those can be provided.  AW note]

Changes to road networks and new train links direct to Reading and Waterloo, as well as Crossrail, will help discourage travellers from driving to Heathrow, the airport said.



Letter from two expert economic advisors to the Airports Commission:

A Note from Expert Advisors, Prof. Peter Mackie and Mr Brian Pearce, on key issues considering the Airports Commission Economic Case

May 2015

Two extracts from that letter:

“Our assessment of the PWC approach is that there is a high degree of overlap between the direct and wider impacts. So for example a benefit accruing proximately to a business traveller going abroad to negotiate an export contract might also show up as a trade effect. We think there is likely to be some double counting between the direct and wider impact channels in the PWC calculations”


“Furthermore the interpretation of the result – what exactly do they mean and is their basis transparent – is an issue. Overall, therefore, we counsel caution in attaching significant weight either to the absolute or relative results of the GDP/GVA SCGE approach (PwC report) within the Economic Case. We would accept that there is some useful indicative material for the Strategic Case but care is required in assessing its robustness and reliability.”

5.5.2015    Letter at


See earlier: 


George Osborne launches National Infrastructure Commission, under Andrew Adonis, so UK can “think big again”

George Osborne has launched his national infrastructure commission. He said infrastructure investment would be at the heart of November’s spending review and the new independent body would think “dispassionately and independently” about Britain’s infrastructure needs. Andrew Adonis will chair the commission, which will oversee £100 billion of infrastructure spending by 2020. Osborne says the failure of successive governments to invest in infrastructure has meant that the British people have longer commutes, higher energy bills and can’t afford to be home-owners. Osborne himself has overseen a 5.4% fall in infrastructure investment since he took office in 2010.  He wants this government to be thinking “long term” and he wants new railway lines, new broadband installed (and perhaps a new runway). Other members of the commission include Michael Heseltine, Prof Tim Besley, Sir John Armitt, and Bridget Rosewell,  The commission will have the initial priorities of examining connections between the big northern cities, London’s transport system and energy infrastructure. It will produce a report at the beginning of each parliament with recommendations for spending on infrastructure projects, though politicians will have the final say.  In the spending review, Osborne will probably announce a suite of asset sales which the Treasury expects to raise billions of pounds to be ploughed back into projects.

Patrick McLoughlin insists government has not yet decided on runway options, despite Osborne rumours

It is still thought likely that the government will make some sort of announcement on whether it backs a runway at Heathrow or Gatwick, by the end of the year. Whether that will come before Christmas Eve is anyone’s guess. The Times reported that George Osborne may be convinced by the Airports Commission report and is therefore ready to rule out Gatwick, considering it is “Heathrow or nothing.” But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said that the Government may reject the recommendation of the Commission’s report, that Heathrow should be expanded. He said the report had just given 3 “options” with a “preferred option”, rather than a ruling with much weight. “…we are looking at the options that it gave us. We are doing the work that is required to see how those three options stack up.” He argued the Government would have to see if some of the report’s recommendations were “actually doable”, and that though the work of the Commission would make a decision on expansion easier, questions still remained. An ally of the Chancellor told the Times: “George doesn’t have a settled view on this. He just wants to see a runway built somewhere as soon as possible once all the proper processes are concluded.”

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2M group boroughs produce highly critical report of Airports Commission’s Heathrow runway recommendation

The four boroughs that have worked hardest to oppose a Heathrow runway, Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, and Windsor and Maidenhead, have produced a damning report on the Airports Commission’s recommendation. They have called on MPs to carefully consider their in-depth assessment of the Commission’s claims, which they have say put together an inflated and distorted case for expanding Heathrow. The councils’ report challenges the recommendation on environmental, health, and community impact grounds, and highlights the environmental, transport, social and political factors that make the 3rd runway undeliverable. They point out how little extra connectivity a new runway would provide; they show claims regarding EU air quality legislation have been misunderstood by the Commission and that it has deliberately recommended adding a large source of pollution in an area that is already under severe strain. Critical factors presenting the biggest challenge to a runway “have been either avoided, or worse, misinterpreted by the Commission.” The councils conclude that a 3rd runway “would significantly reduce regional connectivity and economic competiveness. It would be severely damaging for the millions of people who neighbour the airport and live below its new flightpaths. It is the wrong choice at every level.”

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Leaders of Hillingdon, Richmond and Wandsworth councils tell PM that flight path consultation must precede Government’s runway support

The leaders of Hillingdon, Richmond & Wandsworth councils have written to the Prime Minister to warn that signalling Government support for a 3rd Heathrow runway would be unlawful unless the new flight paths needed re first subject to public consultation. The leaders also highlight a series of flaws and omissions in the Airports Commission’s final report, that recommends a Heathrow runway. They point out that by law, changes to London’s airspace require open consultation. Therefore a decision to expand Heathrow would pre-empt this statutory process. Approving a runway clearly infers the associated flight paths will also be approved. The Airports Commission, though working on Heathrow’s plans for 2 years, failed to identify the location of its new flight paths, let alone consult on them. Instead the Commission’s final report, which costs tax payers in the region of £25m, asks ministers to approve a 3rd Heathrow runway with no details at all on where flight paths would be. That is key information, needed to assess the areas to be worst affected. The local councils have now pointed out that the Commission’s recommendation is directing the Government down a legal cul-de-sac and has urged the PM to dismiss the report.

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Labour peer Lord Adonis to head Osborne infrastructure body – to get things like a new runway built fast

A new body to plan infrastructure projects, the “independent” National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will be chaired by the former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis. The government is expected to announce it will pledge an extra £5 billion in this Parliament for major schemes, which he hopes will boost the UK economy. Osborne says he plans to “shake Britain out of its inertia” and Lord Adonis thinks that without “big improvements” in transport and energy “Britain will grind to a halt”. The NIC will initially focus on London’s transport system, connections between cities in the north of England, and updating the energy network – funded by selling off land, buildings and other government assets. Lord Adonis has resigned the Labour whip and will sit as a crossbencher in the Lords as he starts work in his new role immediately. The NIC will produce a report at the start of each five-year Parliament containing recommendations of infrastructure building over the next 20 to 30 years. Osborne: “I’m not prepared to turn round to my children – or indeed anyone else’s child – and say ‘I’m sorry, we didn’t build for you.’ John Cridland, director-general of the CBI business lobby said: ” ….we must not duck the important infrastructure decisions that need taking now, particularly on expanding aviation capacity in the South East.”

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Dave – what’s your legacy?


Guest blog from Jenine Langrish – for Hacan

Three parties, three leaders: Tony Blair; Nick Clegg; and David Cameron.  How will history remember them?

Tony Blair united the Labour party and led them to their biggest ever majority and three consecutive election victories.  His government oversaw the introduction of a national minimum wage; freedom of information; devolution; and the signing of the Good Friday agreement.

And yet…if you ask the man in the street, he’s remembered for just one thing: his misguided decision to support George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, justified by the claim that Saddam Hussein had ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

That single policy decision has led to mass vilification in the media and ensures that he will forever be remembered as “Tony B-liar”.

Under Nick Clegg’s leadership the Lib Dems soared in popularity and surprised everyone by securing enough votes to hold the balance of power following 2010’s election.  For the first time since the days of Asquith and Lloyd George, the political party in the centre of politics held real power.  They can claim credit for a number of policies in the coalition government, notably raising the tax threshold to take over 3 million low earners out of the income tax system; introducing the pupil premium; and creating the Green Investment Bank.

And yet…once again, if you ask the man in the street, Clegg is remembered for just one thing: breaking his promise on student tuition fees.

That single concession in the coalition agreement discussions led to highly personal attacks in the media and to his party’s vote being decimated in the last election.

Which brings me to David Cameron.  He can claim credit for having overseen the recovery from the financial crisis; bringing the deficit under control; and generally keeping his party’s divisions on Europe under control.

But how will he be remembered in ten years time?  The lesson from Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is that the public have little tolerance if they believe politicians have lied or broken high profile promises.  Part of the reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise ascendancy appears to be that Labour’s grass roots supporters saw him as an honest man who’d do what he said he would.

David Cameron’s highest profile promise is of course ‘No ifs, no buts, no third runway’.  As he appears to stand on the brink of an about turn on Heathrow he would do well to reflect on the lessons of Tony Blair and Nick Clegg.

Dave – how do you want to be remembered?  Do you want to be judged on your policies or simply remembered as the latest in a line of political leaders who broke their promises.  The choice is yours.

#WhatsyourlegacyDave ?