U.K. Minister Prepares Ground for Cameron U-Turn on Heathrow

  • Transport secretary says new Heathrow proposal very different
  • Prime minister made `no ifs, no buts' pledge in 2009

U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin prepared the ground for David Cameron to abandon his 2009 “no ifs, no buts” promise to block the building of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.

McLoughlin said on Monday that two proposals for expanding the airport, which were backed by a government-appointed commission led by Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc Chairman Howard Davies, are different from the one opposed by Cameron before he became prime minister in 2010.

“The prime minister was talking about a specific proposal that was before Parliament at that time which he believed to be wholly wrong as far as the future of aviation capacity was concerned,” McLouglin told the House of Commons Transport Committee in London. “The recommendation that has come forward from the Davies Commission, if a third runway is decided as the right way forward, is very different from the proposal being looked at in 2008 and 2009.”

Cameron, when he was leader of the opposition and aiming to replace Labour’s Gordon Brown as prime minister, ruled out a third runway at Heathrow, west of London, as he tried to win voters in the capital. His Conservative Party referred to the proposal as “Labour’s third runway” and Cameron even sponsored a tree in an orchard planted on the site of the proposed landing strip.

The Airports Commission, which was set up by Cameron in 2012 to put off a decision until after last year’s general election, recommended in December a new runway should be built at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub. The government further delayed a decision, until after May’s London mayoral election, saying that further environmental studies are needed.

McLoughlin denied the delay is to help Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldmsith, who pledged to resign as a House of Commons lawmaker if Heathrow expansion is given the go ahead. The minister said he hopes a decision will be made by the end of July, if the timing of the referendum on European Union membership allows.

“There will be a period of purdah once the referendum is called and that may influence our ability to take a decision at a specific time,” he said. “If it’s June 23, then I think we could still be on target to make it before the end of July. Obviously it will depend on when Parliament is sitting. That’s why I have been cautious on being very specific with that date. There is no doubt in my mind, I would like to see a decision before the house rises in the summer.”

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