Theresa May to chair Heathrow third runway committee

Prime minister to take personal charge of cabinet group and push for decision on controversial airport plan by October

Theresa May will chair a cabinet committee to make the final decision on Heathrow’s third runway plan, in order to push for a resolution by the autumn.

The much-delayed decision will be made by the economic affairs (airports) sub-committee by October. The government’s latest target and full membership of the committee was set to be announced shortly, Downing Street said.

A government spokesperson said: “In line with the approach of the last government, there will be a cabinet sub-committee to consider airport capacity in the south-east.

“This will be chaired by the prime minister. We will publish full details of all cabinet committees, implementation taskforces and their membership in due course.”

The prime minister was returning for her first full day back at work on Wednesday after a walking holiday in the Swiss Alps. Several cabinet ministers including the prime minister are in a predicament because Heathrow expansion could adversely affect their constituencies.

May’s Maidenhead constituency is under the night flight route and she was not a member of the influential committee as home secretary under David Cameron. In July, it was reported that a deleted web archive from the late 2000s revealed May had been a strong critic of airport expansion in west London, saying her constituents faced the “prospect of a reduction in their quality of life with more planes flying overhead”.

Cameron also took personal charge of the committee, and was accused of “locking out” more anti-Heathrow cabinet members such as the then international development secretary, Justine Greening.

Greening, now education secretary after May promoted her, is one of the most vocal critics of Heathrow expansion. She is the MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields.

“Trying to expand Heathrow is like trying to build an eight-bedroom mansion on the site of a terraced house,” she told the Telegraph. “It is a hub airport that is just simply in the wrong place.”

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, also opposed the third runway as London mayor, and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, said last year that he was in favour of expanding Gatwick instead. “London’s role as an international air transport hub can be maintained without additional runways at Heathrow,” he said.

“A second runway at Gatwick, plus enhanced transport links between the airports and better transport links to London will create a ‘virtual’ hub airport, maintaining Heathrow’s role in the local economy without expanding it.”

Members of the committee under Cameron included the then chancellor, George Osborne, who has since returned to the backbenches, as well as Amber Rudd, now home secretary, and the former environment minister Liz Truss, who is now lord chancellor and Patrick McLoughlin, who was transport secretary but is now chairman of the Conservative party.

The Davies commission into airport expansion in the south-east concluded last year that a third runway at Heathrow was the best of three shortlisted options, which also included extending an existing Heathrow runway and building a new one at Gatwick. In December, the government postponed a final decision pending new analysis of the environmental impacts.

After the report’s publication, the government postponed its decision to October 2015, then again to June this year. After the EU referendum result and Cameron’s resignation, McLoughlin said the decision would have to be made by the new prime minister.

Last month, 36 Conservative MPs led by the former party chairman Grant Shapps, wrote to May to demand a decision on Heathrow, saying it was “a matter of extreme urgency”.


Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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