Heathrow: Government to study airport expansion plans


Boris Johnson says the government should rule out uncertainty over the third runway

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The government is to look at ways to expand the UK's airport capacity, amid suggestions the prime minister will perform a U-turn on his pledge not to build a third runway at Heathrow.

A commission chaired by ex-Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies will also consider a new airport to the east of London.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who opposes expanding Heathrow, called the government's move a "fudge".

The commission will report after 2015.

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


However, business leaders and some Tory MPs have argued that increased airport capacity is vital to dragging the UK out of recession.


  • Director of the London School of Economics between 2003 and 2011
  • Resigned after it emerged the LSE had accepted donations from a charity set up by the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
  • Chairman of the Financial Services Authority between 1997 and 2003
  • Deputy governor of the Bank of England between 1995 and 1997
  • Director general of the CBI between 1992 and 1995
  • Special adviser to Chancellor Nigel Lawson between 1985 and 1986
  • Also worked for the Treasury, Foreign Office and consultants McKinsey & Co

Several leading Conservatives, including Chancellor George Osborne, have hinted at a rethink over a third runway at Heathrow.

The controversy has intensified in recent days after Justine Greening, a fierce opponent of a new runway, was replaced as transport secretary by Patrick McLoughlin on Tuesday.

Critics, including Mr Johnson, have suggested this will prepare the ground for a change of Conservative Party policy.

Sir Howard, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England and director of the London School of Economics, will chair a body which will consider evidence from all sides and make recommendations to the government.

His commission will publish an interim report next year but no decision is expected until after the next election, due in 2015.

'Hub status'

David Cameron faced a number of queries on aviation policy during Prime Minister's Questions - the first since the end of the summer recess.

He told MPs that large infrastructure projects were "extremely difficult for individual governments to take and to deliver".

Mr Cameron added: "What we need to do is build a process that hopefully has cross-party support so we can look carefully at this issue and deliver changes that will address the problems of capacity we will have in future years and address the issue of the hub status in the UK."

Sir Howard Davies Sir Howard Davies is a former civil servant, banking regulator and voice of business

Asked by west London Labour MP John McDonnell whether he would rule out sanctioning a new runway while he was prime minister, Mr Cameron said he would "not be breaking my manifesto pledge".

The coalition's record on infrastructure came under attack from Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said the economy had been flagging for two-and-a-half years and coalition policy had "spectacularly failed".

The prime minister defended policies on job creation, apprenticeships and planning - and said all ministers must contribute to economic recovery plans no matter what department they are in.

Mr Johnson, who favours building a new airport east of London, has called for the issue to be settled once and for all by ruling out a new runway beyond 2015 - the scheduled date of the next election.

"What we need to do now is to end the uncertainty over Heathrow and say 'No, folks, it is all right. The policy is as it has been, which is to say no to a new runway both now and in the future.'"


The BBC's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said Mr Johnson wanted to kill the idea of a third runway for ever and this was a "marked escalation" of the dispute within the party.

Questioned about a possible expansion during a visit to a school in east London, Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: "My party's manifesto is against a third runway and the coalition agreement could not have been clearer: we have ruled out giving the go-ahead to a runway during this parliament. It will not happen during this parliament."

Labour's 2010 manifesto supported a third runway at Heathrow, but leader Ed Miliband later distanced himself from the policy, saying he had had "some very heated arguments" with predecessor Gordon Brown over the decision and had even considered resigning from the government.

Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: "We don't need more airport capacity in the South East and London already serves more of the world's leading business centres than our European competitors.

"One of the biggest threats to the economy is climate change - airport expansion would undermine action to tackle it.

"The demands of the aviation industry are insatiable - if it's allowed to get its way, communities and the environment will be forced to pay the price."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I live near Heathrow and would suffer from extra noise but even I can see that building the third runway is the right thing to do, European airports must be overjoyed that this debate even exists! Building an airport in an estuary will mean it is prone to fog/mist and bird strike. Who will put private money into an airport that is regularly affected by these uncontrollable natural phenomena?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Can someone please explain it to me that when a Party has certain things in its Manifesto, it's ok to do the complete opposite (ie. LIE) and call it a U-turn and then seem to think that they can 'get away with it'. Boris is right/wrong, clarification wasn't NEEDED, it was given. It was NO in their Manifesto and even Borris as a Tory doesn't know what's going on...

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    @thewordsmith(post 20)
    Being a transport hub means that businessmen and tourists from huge developing countries like Brazil, China and India can fly direct to the UK from the part of the country they are from. Direct flights will mean vast cuts in time and (should mean) cuts in cost, leading to a boost in tourism and UK business connections, although not as large as sometimes claimed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    BORIS for Tory leadership, at least you know what you're getting. Please take a real close look at Mr Cameron! Does anyone recall that poster of Mr Blair? Remarkable similarities....don't you think!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    People that bought houses in the flight path of Heathrow knew full well that expansion at some stage would be likely. Now the prospect is not so attractive and they want to stop it. This is NOT like a brand new airport being built next to your house in the country side; then I would understand the objections. Having said that, I do believe we need to wait for recommendations by the review.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The Thames Estuary solution sounds the best way forward, but this will require a radical thinking, decisive Government to push it on.
    We need to be thinking ahead for the next 50 years & not just the near future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Some perspective:

    1. Johnson not in cabinet & therefore personally unaffected by reshuffle
    2. Johnson not in news since Olympics
    3. Johnson has colossal ego & ambition & must always be in news

    Hence this "news" item

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    7. aaa123aaa is spot on. A new airport connected by rail between London and Manchester via Birmingham is the only practical solution for the country if it is to have a single hub.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    This airport debate is already tedious and sterile. When will our politicians grow up and accept that evry potential solution will have detractors? Time to show shome leadership and make a decision.The only truly unacceptable decision is to delay. There is not a single commentator who disputes the need for more capacity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Why won't Cameron confirm the pledge he made when he came to office?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    To ALL of you that want a 3rd runway, do you have any thought for the Village it will destroy, do you have any feelings for the people who like me have family and relatives in their final resting place desecrated - Cherry Lane Cemetery. Please think again!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    So no decision by 2015 and then no tories anyway so someone else will decide. By then we might not even be the same country anyway if the scots go their own way. Heathrow will seem like a little blip by then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I don't believe increased capacity is needed in the first place. Family's budgets are so tight now that the weekend break flying etc. is history; and companies are now increasingly imposing restrictions on travelling. The economy will not pick up any time soon at all, I am convinced UK will follow Japan with 20years econ depression. Demand for flying will decrease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    What this country needs is real direction and leadership - let's stop tinkering. Big decisions are needed now. How about a general election for starters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    This isn’t going to happen. Both the Tories and Labour would have to win big chunks of West London go get a majority in parliament. This is a complete vote-loser.
    Be pragmatic, Boris Island is looking to be the only game in town. The Tories have said they want to boost infrastructure, so why not?
    I suspect nothing will happen, which is what this government seem very good at!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Nah. Luton airport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Why should millions of people from outside of London have to travel all the way to London to get flights ? Some people travel SIX HOURS to get to a London airport ! This has been going on for too long because greedy airlines & useless politicians have CREATED the need for flights in one area. It's time for flights from OUTSIDE London to be revamped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Why is it, London might get a new Airport, the rest of the UK will have to pay for it through our taxes, when people there is alot of people who will never be able to afford to leave the airport, but they will have to pay for it.

    The main objections for Boris Island is safety, the cost to the poor, and not doing it, just so some Upper class dont have a little noise.

    Airport out of london not in

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Should there be 3 runways at Heathrow? No.... There should be 4! Come on, we're at breaking point. Got a house near Heathrow? Move. End of....

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    To me it makes more sense not to expand Heathrow, and instead spead capacity over several different or smaller new airport, which will bring benefit to more places in the country. As was demonstrated with the snow a few years back, if a bigger Heathrow closes, then the time to clear the backlog will be far greater and have a bigger negative effect.


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