Heathrow third runway expected to get May cabinet green light – The Guardian

Theresa May’s government is likely to back a third runway at Heathrow on Tuesday, six years after the coalition scrapped plans for the project.

Two sources on the cabinet’s airports subcommittee have told the Guardian they expect the group to back Heathrow, after it meets on Tuesday morning to make a final decision.

Members of the nine-strong committee have been directed to make their decisions on the basis of the evidence of the Airports Commission, which was led by Sir Howard Davies.

That put forward two options for expanding at Heathrow and one at Gatwick, before making a final recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow last year.

The decision will be explained to MPs by Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, at 12.30pm but is likely to emerge soon after the committee, chaired by May herself, has met earlier in the morning.

Both the interim and final reports of the commission, in December 2013 and July 2015, were released at 7am as they were regarded as market sensitive.

No 10 has been careful to say that expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick is still on the table. However, speculation has been mounting in favour of Heathrow since May announced plans to allow ministers to speak out against the chosen option if they have a longstanding opposition and to delay holding a parliamentary vote for more than a year.

The options

This would allow Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and Justine Greening, the education secretary, to speak out against Heathrow if it is chosen for many months.

If Heathrow is picked, it will mean a reversal in Conservative policy since David Cameron as opposition leader ruled out backing a third runway with “no ifs, no buts”.

Although ministers are likely to be happy with the compromise offered by May, a number of Conservative backbenchers would be furious with a decision in favour of Heathrow.

The decision is likely to trigger a byelection at some point as Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park, is expected to resign and stand again as an independent.

Tania Mathias, the Conservative MP for Twickenham, told the Guardian she did not feel that concerns about air quality and noise impact around Heathrow have been resolved since Cameron last year delayed a decision on a third runway to consider the environmental impact further.

“If the decision is Heathrow, I do not think they can get through the public consultation and scrutiny,” she said. “I will be saying they cannot fudge their data now. I think it will mark the beginning of the end for any expansion to Heathrow.”

Grayling insisted this weekend that a decision had yet to be made between Heathrow and Gatwick. But the cabinet subcommittee, which excludes prominent opponents of Heathrow expansion, appears likely to follow the “clear and unanimous” recommendation of the Airports Commission in July 2015 to build a £17.6bn runway by 2025.

Gatwick, which still harbours slim hopes of getting the nod over Heathrow, has warned that its option is its own second runway plan or “Groundhog Day”, pointing to two recent instances – in 2003 and 2009 – when the government has approved a third runway at the west London hub without it being built.

The West Sussex airport’s chairman, Sir Roy McNulty, on Monday wrote to members of May’s airports subcommittee in a last-ditch attempt to underline its claims as the “progressive, competitive option”. McNulty wrote: “Gatwick expansion … would build on the success of airport competition that has seen more choice, improved services and lower fares for passengers. It would help write the next chapter in this success story rather than turn the clock back to the old monopoly of the past.”

However, Sir Howard Davies on Monday reiterated his view that the case for Heathrow was overwhelming, adding: “You struggle to find local supporters of expansion near Gatwick.”

The government’s response to the commission’s report was delayed last December, ostensibly to conduct further studies into air quality around Heathrow. Although the results of the Department for Transport’s research have not been released, Heathrow has said it is confident that the studies have turned up no new obstacle.

But environmental concerns will be at the forefront of opposition to Heathrow expansion, in terms of air quality, climate change and noise. Green MP Caroline Lucas condemned the “climate-wrecking plans” for new runways and called for a frequent flyer levy to reduce the demand for flying. She said: “We know that laying more Tarmac at either Heathrow or Gatwick will bust any hope we have of meeting our climate change commitments, and inflict noise and air pollution on already blighted local communities.”

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth backed the proposal. Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: “Aviation is one of the high-carbon industries where demand restraint is essential as the only practical means of controlling its spiralling emissions.”

The chair of the Commons’ environmental audit committee, Mary Creagh MP, said it would be seeking assurances from the government that any new airport capacity could be reconciled with climate change commitments and legal air pollution limits.

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