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Heathrow expansion 'not ruled out'

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has refused to rule out Heathrow airport expansion after 2015 and insisted David Cameron would not be betraying voters if a third runway is built in west London after the next election.

Mr McLoughlin appeared to suggest people are "obsessing" over Heathrow with the Government-appointed Airports Commission due to publish an interim report containing a short-list of options for extra runways at UK airports this week.

There has been speculation that the commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, will include options for a third or even a fourth runway at the west London airport, to the dismay of London Mayor Boris Johnson and prominent Tory backbencher Zac Goldsmith, who said any decision from the Prime Minister to back Heathrow expansion would represent an "off-the-scale betrayal".

The coalition Government ruled out a third runway at Heathrow in 2010 but Mr McLoughlin insisted the pledge was not to build a third runway "in this Parliament" and stressed any decision would come after 2015, when the commission is due to publish its final report.

He said the decision would be in the best interests of the United Kingdom, not just London, as he pointed out that aircraft are becoming quieter and more fuel-efficient.

The Transport Secretary told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "What we said at the last general election was that we would not build a third runway in this Parliament. We will not be building a third runway in this Parliament. We will stick by our manifesto commitment.

"But it is right for the long-term future of the United Kingdom, we have a panel of experts who will widely be regarded as doing a proper and comprehensive job, and I want to see what their interim report is this week and their final report in 18 months' time and then we'll be able to say which is the right way to go forward."

Asked if the right way forward would be Heathrow expansion, Mr McLoughlin said: "You seem more obsessed about Heathrow than I am."

After being told "everyone is obsessed about it", Mr McLoughlin replied: "Indeed they are, but let's wait and see what the commission say in the longer term."

Mr Johnson, who favours a brand new Thames Estuary airport dubbed "Boris Island", said last week that Heathrow expansion was "environmentally disastrous" and "bad for London and the country", while Mr Goldsmith said Heathrow expansion would represent a catastrophic U-turn for Mr Cameron.

Mr Johnson said: "I've long thought that the purpose of the exercise (in setting up the commission) was to provide cover for a U-turn on Heathrow."

Mr Goldsmith said: "David Cameron himself has to really think very carefully about this. Politically a U-turn on this issue would be catastrophic for him. You have to remember it wasn't just a few party speeches, David Cameron went to every single constituency affected and stood up and said 'no ifs, no buts, there will be no Heathrow expansion'.

"If he does a U-turn on this issue it would be an off-the-scale betrayal and he will never be forgiven in west London."

While Mr Johnson and Mr Goldsmith remain vehemently opposed to Heathrow expansion, bosses of the airport and those working there are equally passionate about a new runway at the west London airport.

Similarly, there is strong support from management at Gatwick for an extra, second, runway at the West Sussex airport, while the option of another runway at Stansted has its supporters.

Sir Howard's final report, when the commission is expected to make firm proposals on just where the expansion should best take place, is not due until summer 2015 - after the next general election.

With there being no need for a definite decision for more than 18 months, the commission could choose to list a number of options in its report on Tuesday, while saying that nothing has been ruled in nor ruled out.

Should the Boris Island scheme not even make the short-list then it will almost certainly signal the end of that particular Estuary plan.

In a speech in October this year revealing the commission's "emerging thinking", Sir Howard said: "Our provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the south-east of England in the coming decades.

"To rely only on runways currently in operation would be likely to produce a distinctly sub-optimal solution for passengers, connectivity and the economy and would also almost certainly not be the best solution in terms of minimising the overall carbon impact of flights and travel to and from airports."


From Belfast Telegraph