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Airport expansion decision will be controversial 'whatever the verdict'

By David Hughes and Adrian Rutherford

Published 24/10/2016

A decision on airport expansion will result in "challenge and opposition", whichever option is chosen, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has acknowledged.

Ministers will decide tomorrow whether to give the go-ahead to a new runway at Heathrow despite opposition within the party from senior Tories, including Boris Johnson and Justine Greening.

Mr Grayling insisted that no verdict had yet been reached on which of the three options for expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick would be backed by the Government.

He acknowledged that any of the three options on the table - new runways at London Heathrow or Gatwick, or extending an existing runway at Heathrow - would be controversial, but they would "open up new opportunities for Britain" as it adjusts to Brexit.

His comments came as Tory MPs were said to be preparing to support a legal challenge by Conservative councils if Prime Minister Theresa May decides to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow.

Rebel MPs will advise a legal challenge from Tory authorities to ensure expansion is "killed off" in the courts, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Newsletters from Mrs May to her constituents in Maidenhead have also emerged, pledging to "fight to stop the third runway" at Heathrow, warning it would have a "detrimental" impact on their lives. Tory policy at the time of the leaflets in 2009 and 2010 was to oppose the construction of a third runway.

A 2009 newsletter said: "Theresa has opposed the Government's decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow. This would have a major impact on the constituency.

"A particular concern is a possible earlier increase in night flights over Maidenhead and the surrounding area."

After the coalition took office in 2010, a leaflet in November that year welcomed the news that the third runway project had been cancelled.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Secretary of State James Brokenshire says tomorrow's decision will have significant implications for Northern Ireland for decades to come.

"By building more runway capacity in the south east of England, we will be able to improve domestic links," he writes.

"More competition on routes around the country will also make air fares cheaper.

"We need to expand capacity to keep up with our European neighbours, and expanding economies worldwide too." Mr Brokenshire said the chosen option "will be affordable, environmentally sustainable, and a plan the whole country can get behind".

Some Northern Ireland politicians have urged Mrs May to give the green light to a new runway at Heathrow.

DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Jim Shannon and Gavin Robinson, and the party's Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan, were among 50 politicians from across the UK calling on the PM to back expansion of the west London hub.

Ulster Unionist MLAs Alan Chambers and Steve Aiken have also signed the letter, as has TUV leader Jim Allister, Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson and SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan.

Belfast Telegraph

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