The British government ruled out building a new runway at London’s Heathrow airport in the face of calls from Conservative Party lawmakers to abandon its opposition.
“We don’t see the argument for a third runway,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman, Vickie Sheriff, told reporters in London today. “We have set out a process and that doesn’t include looking at a third runway.”
Tim Yeo, the chairman of Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee, used an article in today’s Daily Telegraph newspaper to call on Cameron to decide whether he is a “man or a mouse,” arguing that blocking a new runway at Europe’s busiest hub would lead the U.K. to slide toward “insignificance.”
Transport Secretary Justine Greening pointed to the coalition agreement between Cameron’s Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners, which rules out a third runway, and said the opposition Labour Party is also against building one. In any case, the proposed Heathrow runway would be too short for the largest modern planes and she’ll shortly begin a consultation on a long-term solution, with a new airport one possibility, she said.
“The coalition agreement is very clear that we don’t support a third runway,” Greening told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “We need to start the process of saying: if we are not going to have a third runway, how do we make sure we have the hub capacity our country needs?”
Cameron is due to reorganize his Cabinet in the coming weeks, according to a person familiar with his plans. That has led to newspaper reports that he could move Greening, who represents a district under Heathrow’s flight path and opposes a third runway, away from the transport brief as a step toward switching position on the plan.
Greening said today she hoped she’d remain in the post. She declined to say whether she’d stay in the Cabinet in another job if the runway were to go ahead, saying only that it would be “difficult” for her.
The publication of the planned consultation document on the future of London’s airports has already been delayed until later this year, demonstrating the tensions within the government on the issue.
Greening said a long-term solution could mean a new airport, “or it possibly means airports working together.” In July, a group of 39 Conservative lawmakers called for two new runways to be built there to increase passenger capacity. Housing Minister Grant Shapps told the Telegraph last week that “all the options” need to be considered, while keeping in mind that party’s 2010 election pledge to oppose the new runway.
International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), whose British Airways division has its hub at Heathrow, has said U.K. economic growth depends on an expansion of the airport. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. founder Richard Branson has also said he’s “deeply frustrated” by opposition to expanding Heathrow.
The Liberal Democrats will vote at their annual conference on Sept. 23 on a motion that would reject the building of any new runways at Heathrow or the capital’s other main airports, Gatwick and Stansted, and demand an independent study to find a location for a hub. The motion also opposes Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal to construct a new airport in the Thames estuary.
As Cameron considers his options for reorganizing his Cabinet, the Guardian newspaper published a poll showing nearly half of voters saying he should move Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne from his job. ICM Ltd. interviewed a random sample of 1,006 adults by telephone on Aug. 24-26. Of those polled, 48 percent said Osborne should be replaced.
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