Cambridge MP calls on Lib Dems to oppose new runways

Deborah McGurran
Political editor, East of England

image copyrightPA
image captionNick Clegg has refused to rule out a second runway at Stansted or a brand new airport in the Thames

The Liberal Democrat leader says he's keeping an open mind about airport expansion.

In what's being seen as a shift in his position on the issue - Nick Clegg has refused to rule out a second runway at Stansted or building a brand new airport in the Thames.

This appears to be at odds with Julian Huppert's motion, presented at the Lib Dems' Brighton conference.

His motion reinforces the party's opposition to new runways at London's airports - when there is already space at existing airports for a 60% expansion.

Airport options

The call for long term airport expansion has been growing over the last year and the government has started to listen.

The government has just appointed an independent commission to advise on what should be done.

Among the options most favoured by the industry are a third runway at Heathrow, a new runway at Stansted or the so called Boris Island hub airport off the Essex coast.

The Lib Dems have always been opposed to any further expansion - but now their leader seems to be sitting on the fence - telling us we should wait for the independent commission to report.

Meanwhile, at their conference, the Liberal Democrats backed a motion proposed by the MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, to continue to oppose any more expansion in the South East.

"We acknowledge that there are benefits to aviation and we want to maximise those benefits while at the same time protecting our environment and meeting our carbon emission targets," he says.

"But we must not allow the total number of UK runways to expand. Flight movements above the Committee on Climate Change cap would pose an unacceptable risk."

Environmental impact

The policy also makes it clear that the party has a long term vision for a new hub airport - if an appropriate location can be found - but without an increase in runways or total airport capacity.

image copyrightFoster and Partners
image captionAnother option is an Estuary Airport at the Hoo Peninsula on the Kent coast

The party firmly rejects Boris Johnson's Thames estuary airport.

Dr Huppert asserts: "By voting so strongly for this motion our party members and supporters have left the public in no doubt where we stand on this crucial issue."

While Mr Huppert wants to balance the industry's benefits as a driver of jobs and growth with its environmental damage, Mr Clegg's comments seem to suggest that the party leadership's view is changing.

Campaigners living near Stansted and the Thames will have to make their minds up as to which way the Lib Dem wind is blowing.