The new transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has met with the bosses of Heathrow and Gatwick airports for the first time to hear their arguments for expansion, signalling the Government is edging towards the controversial decision about where to build a new runway.
David Cameron, the former prime minister, had pledged to choose between the two airports this summer but his resignation and the political turmoil caused by the Brexit vote meant an announcement about expansion was postponed until the autumn.
The delay has piled pressure on Theresa May, Mr Cameron’s successor, to tackle the contentious issue, which has dogged successive governments for years.
In a sign the Government is nearing a decision, it is understood that Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, held lengthy meetings with Heathrow, Gatwick and Heathrow Hub – the independent scheme to lengthen one of the west London airport’s existing runways – earlier this month. The encounters marked the first time that the heads of the three competing expansion plans had met Mr Grayling since he became transport secretary and gave the bosses an opportunity to present their cases directly to him.
The meetings, which took place at the airports, will raise hopes the Government will stick to its pledge of resolving the expansion issue this autumn, rather than allow further delay.
Fears are growing that the South East faces a runway capacity crisis. Heathrow, led by chief executive John Holland-Kaye, is practically full and Gatwick, under boss Stewart Wingate, is also fast-approaching its limits. Both are lobbying furiously for Government-backed expansion.
Heathrow Hub, led by former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe and backed by individuals including financier Ian Hannam, is proposing an alternative scheme to extend Heathrow’s northern runway, which has a £13.4bn price tag. Businesses across the UK want the Government to choose between the schemes and push ahead with expansion.
Not only would extra runway capacity boost the economy, but approving a major infrastructure project would demonstrate the country is open for business following the Brexit vote, especially after Mrs May delayed the Hinkley Point nuclear project.
But expansion of either airport faces opposition among residents concerned about noise and air pollution. While many MPs support Heathrow, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, vehemently opposes its expansion, as does Justine Greening, the Education Secretary. Mrs May, whose Maidenhead constituency is overflown by Heathrow planes, has expressed past opposition.
It is thought Mr Cameron had been poised to approve Heathrow’s third runway before he resigned. [Politics Home announced on the day of the EU referendum that the statement would be on 7th or 8th July…. link ] Heathrow’s chances were boosted last year after the Government-appointed Airports Commission concluded a third runway was the best solution to the looming capacity crunch. Heathrow, Gatwick and Heathrow Hub declined to comment.
The Department for Transport said: “We continue to engage with the three promoters ahead of a decision and it is entirely appropriate and reasonable to meet with them.”
Cabinet critics will not quit over Heathrow third runway
Cabinet ministers opposed to expanding Heathrow are not prepared to quit the Government over the issue, clearing the way for Theresa May to push ahead with a third runway.
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, are unlikely to resign despite the impact it would have on their constituencies, The Sunday Telegraph understands.
Mrs May is prepared to push ahead with a third runway in October if she concludes that it is in the “national interest”, despite previously opposing plans to expand the airport. Whitehall sources made clear that she will not give in to resignation threats and that “she doesn’t do deals”.
Friends of Mr Johnson, however, have suggested he would stop short of leaving the Cabinet and the role of Foreign Secretary, which is pivotal as Britain leaves the European Union. A friend said: “It’s not as if he has hidden his view about it. It’s perfectly reasonable for different members of Parliament to have different takes on regional policy, which is what this is.”
Ms Greening, a former transport secretary and MP for Putney in south-west London, makes clear her opposition to Heathrow on her website.
As transport secretary in the Coalition she had said she would find it “very difficult” not to resign if the Government decided to expand Heathrow. She has indicated, however, that she could stay on in Cabinet now that she no longer holds the transport brief.
Earlier this year, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, who has campaigned for a third runway, said Britain should push ahead with airport expansion in the South East.
He told the Telegraph that after the referendum Britain was facing a “very competitive economic climate” and could not afford to “put off big decisions on infrastructure”. Mrs May will chair a Cabinet committee which will decide on the third runway plan. Whitehall sources suggested the Government is “leaning towards”
Heathrow, but added that there are still significant environmental and cost issues to overcome. It has been suggested the Prime Minister could give Tory MPs a free vote on a new runway in the South East to stop ministers having to quit the Cabinet.
Justine Greening’s website page on Heathrow is very out of date (and very bland):
Justine has led our community’s campaign against extra aircraft noise from an expanded Heathrow. She held two public meetings at St Mary’s church in Putney so that residents could hear directly from Heathrow and Gatwick about their expansion proposals shortlisted by the Airports Commission. In response to a direct question from a resident, Heathrow have said that our current eight hour respite is not guaranteed in their expansion proposal.
In a Community Survey, 90% of residents who were affected by aircraft noise supported Justine’s campaign to stop further Heathrow expansion.
Justine is determined to continue to protect our local quality of life so that we have a proper break from aircraft every day. Earlier this year [so this is 2014?] she made sure that residents knew when the Airports Commission consultation was running, so we could all have our say and respond. Justine will continue to stand up for the thousands of residents who are concerned about aircraft noise and she’ll keep working to make sure our local community is listened to.
Earlier Justine Greening had said:
Justine Greening …”called for a new “long term” strategy to be drawn up to decide on a “sensible” future airport policy for the UK.
“I don’t believe that this government will proceed with a third runway decision,” she told The Telegraph. “I just don’t think it is a smart decision.
“Trying to expand Heathrow is like trying to build an eight bedroom mansion on the site of a terraced house. It is a hub airport that is just simply in the wrong place.”
“The sooner that we can move onto working out a long term airport strategy for Britain the better,” she said.
Some comments by Boris Johnson on Heathrow:
Mr Johnson, the Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, said: “The Airports Commission has spent several years in the production of a gigantic ball of wool that they are now attempting to pull over the eyes of the nation.
“Their report very clearly shows that a third runway will fail both London and the UK on every level.
“Our great nation is sleepwalking its way towards becoming a bit part player in the aviation world.”
Mr Johnson claimed figures “buried” in the commission’s report, released in July, showed expanding Heathrow would offer six fewer long haul destinations a day and only four UK cities would have a connection to the hub by 2030, down from the current seven.
He also described the noise data published by the commission as “incomplete”, making proper scrutiny “almost impossible”.
…. and more 7.9.2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-34173419
London Mayor Boris Johnson has denied that he would quit as an MP if the Tory government approve a third Heathrow runway.
In his acceptance speech on being elected MP for Uxbridge, Johnson said he would lie down “in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway” at Heathrow.
Johnson told LBC he would use his political position to fight the airport expansion if he remains in Parliament.
Unconfirmed leak that 7th or 8th July possible dates for government runway announcement – (but that was before Brexit )…..
23.6.2016 (which was the date of the EU Referendum)
PoliticsHome learned that “Ministers are planning to announce their decision on whether to build a third runway at Heathrow in two weeks’ time” (no mention of Gatwick by PoliticsHome.)
[The announcement] “has been pencilled in for 7th July – the day after the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War – although it could be moved to 8th July. Sources close tothe process have told PoliticsHome the Prime Minister is eager to make the announcement before parliament rises for its summer recess on 21st July. However, publishing it the day after the 2.6 million-word Chilcot report comes out could be seen by some as trying to bury the controversy while the public’s attention is elsewhere.” Link
24.6.2016 All rather overtaken by events …. as unexpectedly Britain did not vote to stay in the EU. So the Heathrow announcement had to be postponed ….