October 24, 2016

Airports expansion decision ‘next week’


A decision on airport expansion in England will be made next week, with ministers allowed to express their own views, Downing Street has said.
In an unusual move, ministers opposed to the decision will be allowed to voice their “personal views”.
Suspending “collective responsibility” for cabinet heightens speculation that Heathrow expansion will be approved.
Developing Heathrow rather than Gatwick has been strongly opposed by several cabinet ministers.
The final decision on whether to expand either Heathrow or Gatwick will be made at a cabinet airports sub-committee meeting next week, No 10 said.
Prime Minister Theresa May told ministers at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting that a decision on increasing airport capacity in the South East had been “delayed for too long” and that it was important to now take a decision “in the national interest”, her spokeswoman said.
Free vote?
Allowing ministers to speak out could avert resignations by the likes of Education Secretary Justine Greening, who is among the cabinet members opposing any expansion at Heathrow.
The nine members of the airports sub-committee do not include Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat is close to Heathrow, Putney MP Ms Greening or any other minister representing a London constituency.
Mrs May’s spokeswoman said the decision to give ministers a limited period to voice their personal views was a “mature, common-sense approach reflecting the fact that many ministers have long-held views and that ministers are also MPs and some have specific constituency issues that they have to address”.
The spokeswoman would not say whether the prime minister would offer Conservative MPs a free vote on airport expansion when the issue is debated in House of Commons.
As many as 60 Tory backbenchers could vote against expansion at Heathrow, where options include building a third runway, or lengthening one of the existing runways.
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park, has vowed to resign from the Commons if the government approves Heathrow expansion.
The Evening Standard reported on Tuesday that the local Conservative party would back Mr Goldsmith if he stood for re-election as an independent.
Airlines and business groups favour expansion of Heathrow, which offers far more direct connections than Gatwick and handles much more freight.
A final decision on which London airport to expand has been years in the making.
In 2009, former prime minister David Cameron pledged that there would be no new runway at Heathrow.
In July 2015, the Airports Commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies backed a new third runway at Heathrow, but did not rule out the option of expanding Gatwick.
Mr Cameron had promised a decision by the end of last year on whether to build a new runway at Heathrow.

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