Heathrow third runway calls pose party headaches

Tory and Labour divided by Heathrow third runway question
Tory and Labour divided by Heathrow third runway question

By politics.co.uk staff

Revived calls for a third runway at Heathrow are posing challenges for both the Conservative and Labour parties' leaderships.

David Cameron is facing pressure to fire transport secretary Justine Greening over her opposition to the runway, while former chancellor Alistair Darling has come out against Ed Miliband's decision abandon Labour's support for the expansion.

Neither party officially backs a third runway at Heathrow. But the double-dip recession and pressure from business organisations are convincing increasing numbers of politicians that action needs to be taken to boost the UK's economy.

"The extra flights supported, and a further runway at one of London's other airports, would enable Britain to remain competitive and connected until at least 2050, even by the most ambitious forecasts of demand," Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, wrote in an article for the Telegraph newspaper yesterday.

Chancellor George Osborne is widely thought to be supporting moves to revisit the third runway option. His position was backed publicly by housing minister Grant Shapps yesterday, when he told the Telegraph newspaper he believed "all options" needed to be considered.

Greening, the Tory MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, would be bound to oppose the third runway because her constituents would suffer from increased noise and air pollution. The coalition has already delayed the publication of its aviation strategy twice this year.

Labour approved plans for a third runway in 2009 but, after voters ousted them from power in the 2010 general election, new leader Miliband dropped the policy in October 2011.

Now Darling has spoken out against that shift, telling his leader: "You can't just ignore the problem and hope it will go away."

He told the Independent on Sunday newspaper: "Everybody who flies wants a runway, and nobody who lives near one wants one at all. There is a consensus we actually do need more capacity."

The Liberal Democrats are not entirely unified on the issue, either. Delegates will vote on a policy motion at their conference in Brighton next month calling for an independent commission to investigate what constitutes the best medium- and long-term options for Britain's aviation strategy.

But transport minister Steve Baker has made clear his opposition to expansion, and other ministers including Jeremy Browne have expressed support for new expansion in the south-east.


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