Runway decision by Cabinet due 25th October, no Commons vote, and NPS consultation for new runway all next year

The Cabinet met today (18th October) and did not come to a formal agreement on backing a Heathrow runway. However it is widely believed to be the preferred option of Mrs May and most of the Cabinet. There will be another meeting of the Cabinet next Tuesday, and after that a statement will be made by Chris Grayling in the House of Commons, on which runway location is chosen. There will not be a vote in Parliament soon afterwards, as had been speculated. Instead – as had always been known – there will be consultation next year on the Airports National Policy Statement, which is needed before a development as large as a runway – a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project – can be applied for.  The government hopes to have the Airports NPS completed, put to Parliament to vote on, and finally published (designated) by around the end of 2017 or early 2018 . She has written to all Cabinet Ministers laying out what they can, and cannot do, in terms of opposing the Cabinet runway decision.  Ministers opposed to her decision have to ask her approval first to be permitted not to toe the line …. This is aimed especially at Boris Johnson and Justine Greening. Mrs May says:  “…. no Minister will be permitted to campaign actively against the Government’s position, nor publicly criticise, or call into question the decision-making process itself. Ministers will not be permitted to speak against the Government in the House.”


Update – what happens next:

Theresa May said (18th October) that there would be no Parliamentary approval of a third runway until after a vote on the National Policy Statement (NPS) on Aviation in Winter 2017/18. 

This has been seen as a delay.  It is not.  It is the process we have always known has to be gone through in order to get a new runway agreed.  It is what we (and the airports) were expecting and planning for.

The only thing that has changed (other than details of how Mrs May will control the opinions of her Cabinet) is that there will not be a symbolic free vote in the Commons, which could have been taken within days of next week’s announcement. That could have – the government hoped – shown cross-party support for the Heathrow 3rd runway. That vote was never necessary and had no weight in law. That initial vote had never been announced and there is no U-turn.

The Government will indicate its preferred option before the end of October.  (25th ?) It will almost certainly be Heathrow.  This is the reason why Theresa May announced that Cabinet members who have expressed long-standing opposition to a new runway at Heathrow can continue to oppose it. 

In the first half of next year the Government will consult on: 

  • The local impacts of its preferred option
  • Its wider National Policy Statement on Aviation since the statement will include all aspects of aviation policy, not just the runway
  • Its draft Airspace Strategy (but not individual flight paths)

(There are no details on those consultations, or others, yet)

This will lead to a vote in Parliament to approve the NPS during winter 2017/18.       Even that is not the end of the process.  Heathrow will then be required to draw up an Environmental Impact Assessment to form part of its detailed proposals for a new runway which will need to go to a Planning Inquiry.

With the NPS consultation in 2017 the timetable is on track for the airport to – perhaps – go ahead with its plan to open the new runway by 2026. Government backing in a parliamentary vote on the NPS, which is a binding vote, should clear the way for obtaining planning permission, which is the next stage after the NPS.  Many obstacles remain however, at numerous stages of the process.

Heathrow never expected it would get final permission to start digging until 2020/21.  Yesterday’s announcement by Theresa May does not change that.   

Theresa May sets out strict rules to control how Boris Johnson opposes an expected Heathrow decision

She also revealed the House of Commons may not have a say on airport expansion before 2018

By Joe Watts Political Correspondent (Independent)

18.10.2016 about 18.30 GMT
Theresa May has set out strict rules in a bid to control how cabinet ministers like Boris Johnson raise objections to an expected  decision to approve Heathrow expansion.

The Prime Minister is allowing “exceptional and limited” dissent from some ministers to avoid a major cabinet split, but has set out mind-boggling restrictions on what they can and cannot say.

In a letter to ministers, Ms May also reveals that after a cabinet-committee decision to approve expansion next week, the final proposals may not be put to the House of Commons until the early part of 2018.

Ms May’s message said that she recognised some colleagues have “strongly held views” and in some cases had constituency matters relating to airport expansion.
As a result she would put in place a “special arrangement” to allow some designated ministers a chance to avoid backing the government position and to set out a personal position on the matter. Any minister wishing to voice disapproval must “seek my approval”, she said.


The letter goes on: “This special derogation from normal rules of collective responsibility will also be subject to a number of important caveats.

“No minister will be permitted to campaign actively against  the government’s position, nor publically criticise, or call into question the decision making process itself.

“Ministers will not be permitted to speak against the government in the House [of Commons].”

The rules are likely to hit Education Secretary Justine Greening and Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson, not known for verbal restraint, who both have already been vocal in their opposition to Heathrow.


Mrs May’s letter to the Cabinet contains the following statements: 

“You will also be permitted, as part of the subsequent public debate on the subject, to restate longstanding views that are already a matter of public record and to pass on the vies of our constituents they are directly affected.”

“This is, however, an exceptional and limited arrangement. It will apply only to those ministers who have previously expressed strong opinions or who have a directly-affected constituency. Any colleague who considers that he or she falls into this category should seek my approval.”

“The arrangement all come into effect once a decision has been taken by the Airports sub-Committee on a preferred scheme and announced in the House of Commons.”

“The Government’s preferred scheme will then be subject to fun and fair public consultation before a final decision is put before the House, to designate [ie. publish] the National Policy Statement [on Airports] (in winter 2017/18).’

“…. no Minister will be permitted to campaign actively against the Government’s position, nor publicly criticise, or call into question the decision-making process itself. Ministers will not be permitted to speak against the Government in the House.”

Copy of the letter taken from Twitter: 


Earlier in the day, the Independent reported: 

Ms May told a meeting of the full cabinet today that the final decision would be taken at a sub-committee of ministers.

Her spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister also set out, in terms of the process moving forward, she wanted to approach this in a mature way, recognising that a number of ministers have long held views on this issue and previously set out positions.

“And that, in light of that, there would be a certain period of time after the committee has taken a decision, where they would be able to express those views and they would not be expected to publicly support the government’s position.”  Link 

Guardian article says:

Downing Street sources said May had not categorically ruled out holding a preliminary vote before winter of next year, but pointed out the only legal requirement was for a vote in the final stages, when a national policy statement needed for planning purposes is put to parliament for approval.

One Tory backbencher said the parliamentary vote had been put off because of increasing nervousness about resignations.

The decision suggests she is not strong enough to whip her cabinet in favour of a pro-Heathrow decision, although her official spokeswoman rejected the idea that partially suspending collective responsibility on this issue was a sign of weakness.   Link 



BBC Politics Live:

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport has said that the decision to hold a public consultation on options for airport expansion in south east England before a final decision is “the expected and appropriate political process” and that “there is no delay.”

They added: “Heathrow expansion has the support of the majority of MPs. In recent polling, 71% of Conservative MPs and 73% of Labour MPs back a new runway at Heathrow.

“We also have the support of business, unions and the majority of airports in the UK.”

Gatwick airport also said the process was as expected.

The prime minister sent a letter to government ministers advising them of the decision to hold a sub-committee meeting to decide on a preferred expansion scheme later in October.

The government’s preferred scheme will then be subject to a “full and fair” public consultation before a final decision is made in the Commons in the winter of 2017-18.

Heathrow third runway decision needed ‘as soon as possible’ after Brexit says Simon Calder

Setting out the process Ms May explains that once the cabinet committee has made a decision on which proposal for expansion to back, it will then go to a full public consultation before “a final decision is put before the House” in the winter of 2017/18.

A Heathrow third runway was recommended by the independent Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies.

It has also gained backing from Labour this week with shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald saying there needs to be “overwhelming evidence” that the Commission’s conclusions are flawed for it to be ignored.

The Scottish National party has also said it backs the Heathrow expansion. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Suspending collective responsibility to avoid a tricky vote is something that Corbyn does to try and paper over the massive schisms in his party, and now, it seems, the Prime Minister has taken a leaf out of his book.”


The Financial Times says:

18.10.2016   at about 1830 GMT

Theresa May has given the clearest signal yet that she is about to approve a third runway at Heathrow airport but a final vote in the House of Commons will not happen for more than a year.

The prime minister told cabinet colleagues that they would be free to speak out against the final decision, a suspension of collective responsibility intended to allow critics to oppose a new runway without resigning.

The decision seems to be aimed at Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, and Justine Greening, education secretary, staunch critics of an expanded Heathrow. There are no outspoken cabinet critics of the rival plan to build a second runway at Gatwick.

Mrs May’s “exceptional” arrangement should keep her top team together but giving the green light to Heathrow expansion will force the resignation of the environmentalist Zac Goldsmith and a by-election in his Richmond Park seat.

The prime minister will make her decision next week after a meeting of the airports subcommittee, with an announcement later that day in the House of Commons by transport secretary Chris Grayling.

That will lead to a year-long public consultation before a vote in late 2017 or early 2018 in the Commons on the new “national policy statement” authorising the project. Even then the airport management must apply for planning position.


In advance of the decision, she announced a suspension of collective responsibility, allowing ministers who had previously expressed strong views on airport expansion and had constituency interests to criticise government policy. Even then they must still seek permission from Mrs May.

In a letter to ministers, she explained that they would not be able to “campaign actively” against the government’s position, or publicly criticise, or call into question the decision-making process. Nor would they be allowed to argue against the government in the Commons.

Full FT article at


Airport expansion vote put on hold for more than a year by Theresa May

PM will hold final vote on expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick to allow for public consultation and debate

By  (Guardian)

Theresa May will not hold the final vote on airport expansion for more than a year to allow for public debate, with cabinet ministers such as Boris Johnson and Justine Greening allowed to express opposition if Heathrow is the chosen option.

The prime minister wrote to cabinet colleagues on Tuesday saying the government’s decision on whether to back airport expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick would be taken by a cabinet committee before the end of the month.

She said any cabinet minister with longstanding opposition to the chosen option will be permitted to dissent publicly on behalf of their constituents, without campaigning against the government or speaking against it in parliament.

The partial suspension of collective responsibility strongly suggests the government’s favoured proposal will be a third runway at Heathrow, as it would allow Johnson and Greening to express disapproval without resigning.

However, the final decision on expanding airport capacity will not be taken by parliament until the winter 2017-18, meaning it could be another 16 months before the national policy statement relating to airport capacity is approved.


Airports expansion decision to be made next week

The government will next week announce its decision on whether to favour expanding either Heathrow or Gatwick airport, after decades of delays.

18.10.2016 (BBC)

Unusually, the decision will not be taken by the full cabinet but by a sub-committee, chaired by Theresa May.

MPs will not get to vote on the decision for at least another year.

Some ministers will be allowed to speak out against it for a limited period in a move being seen as evidence a third runway at Heathrow will be backed.

Expanding Heathrow is strongly opposed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Education Secretary Justine Greening.

Allowing ministers to speak out could avert the possibility of resignations from cabinet.

In a letter, Prime Minister Theresa May has told cabinet colleagues that once a decision has been taken by the airports sub-committee on the preferred scheme it will then be subject to a “full and fair public consultation” before a final decision is put before the Commons in the winter of 2017-18.

Number 10 would not comment as to whether MPs would be able to vote freely on the matter.


Earlier, Mrs May told ministers at a cabinet meeting that a decision on increasing airport capacity in the South East had been “delayed for too long”.

Her spokeswoman said the prime minister believed it was important to now take a decision “in the national interest”.

The nine members of the airports sub-committee do not include Mr Johnson, whose Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat is close to Heathrow, Putney MP Justine Greening or any other minister representing a London constituency.

Mrs May’s spokeswoman said the decision to give ministers a limited period to voice their personal views was a “mature, common-sense approach reflecting the fact that many ministers have long-held views and that ministers are also MPs and some have specific constituency issues that they have to address”.

As many as 60 Tory backbenchers could vote against expansion at Heathrow, where options include building a third runway, or lengthening one of the existing runways.

Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park, has vowed to resign from the Commons if the government approves a Heathrow expansion.

The Evening Standard reported on Tuesday that the local Conservative party would back Mr Goldsmith if he stood for re-election as an independent.

Airlines and business groups favour expansion of Heathrow, which offers far more direct connections than Gatwick and handles much more freight.

A final decision on which London airport to expand has been years in the making.

In 2009, former prime minister David Cameron pledged that there would be no new runway at Heathrow.

In July 2015, the Airports Commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies backed a new third runway at Heathrow, but did not rule out the option of expanding Gatwick.

Mr Cameron had promised a decision by the end of last year on whether to build a new runway at Heathrow.


National Policy Statements

AirportWatch note:

The Airports National Policy Statement once a runway location decision has been made.

Something as huge as a runway, and the associated airport development, is considered to be a NSIP (Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project) so there needs to be a National Policy Statement.

National Policy Statements (NPSs) are produced by Government.

They give reasons for the policy – in this case a runway – and set the policy against which the Secretary of State for Transport will make decisions on development consent order for the runway.

A Development Consent Order (DCO) is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP).

These NSIPs need development consent orders rather than other consents such as planning permission,

There is already an NPS for Ports (2012) and one for National Networks (road and rail – 2014)

The Airports National Policy Statement would look at:

“how the runway development integrates with other government policies,” and “circumstances where it would be particularly important to address the adverse impacts of development.”  It is not possible to argue that the runway should not be built – just details of how to make its impact slightly less dreadful.