Liberal Democrats reject South East airport expansion

A plane flies over homes in west London A review of airport expansion in the South East was started earlier this month

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The Liberal Democrats have voted against new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and against plans for a Thames Estuary airport.

Delegates at the party's conference passed a motion rejecting major aviation expansion in the South East.

Lib Dem Transport Minister Norman Baker said a new Heathrow runway would cause "untold extra misery" for Londoners.

Earlier this month the government began a review of how the UK might expand its airport capacity in the South East.

However the coalition also said it remained opposed to a third runway amid calls for a rethink by some Conservative MPs and claims that Transport Secretary Justine Greening was removed from her post as a prelude to a U-turn.

Some MPs argue that increased airport capacity is needed to help bring the UK out of recession.

'South East obsessed'

Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert, chairman of the party's transport committee, said: "Britain has to get the right balance between our need for international connectivity and the environmental threats we face.

"At the same time, we have to solve decades of bad planning, which has resulted in a quarter of all those in Europe who are affected by noise pollution living under the Heathrow flight-path.

"The motion which the Liberal Democrats have adopted today strikes the right balance for Britain.

"It puts a stop to expansion at Heathrow. It puts an end to the bonkers idea of Boris Island.

The Transport Minister Norman Baker said the motion reinforces the Liberal Democrats' opposition to airport expansion.

Today's vote puts the party at odds with the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who said, other than a third runway at Heathrow, he would look at all the other options.

Mr Clegg said in a BBC interview he "was not persuaded by the argument for an airport in the Thames Estuary" but said there could be other options for a hub airport such as in the Midlands.

He said he was not an aviation expert but he would wait for the findings of the Davis Commission set up by David Cameron and would consider all the options.

"And it says 'no' to a South East obsessed aviation policy."

He added: "Instead, for the short term, we will make the best use of the capacity we have, and in the long term we will work with the government commission to look for a new hub, but crucially one which will not allow for total capacity above climate change targets, and one which will not become a blight on local lives and local wildlife."

'Pussyfooting around'

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats ruled out a third runway at Heathrow in their 2010 general election manifestos and the coalition agreement continued this commitment.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said ahead of conference that he was absolutely against a third runway at Heathrow and "was not persuaded by a Thames Estuary airport" but would wait for the findings of the independent commission.

The commission will consider evidence from all sides and make recommendations to the government, but no decision is due until after the next election, due in 2015.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who favours building a new airport east of London, has accused the government of "pussyfooting around" on airport expansion.

He has called for the issue to be settled once and for all by ruling out a new runway beyond 2015.

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