Justine Greening, MP for Putney, has been moved from the position of Transport Secretary in the reshuffle, a move which many see as clearing the way for expansion at Heathrow.
Greening had a manifesto commitment to oppose a third runway at Heathrow in her general election campaign, and had said she would resign her ministry rather than support such an expansion. Her resolute opposition has been called a block to a free and fair consideration of all options for expanding the UK’s aviation capacity, something which most agree is important to keeping London at the head of the league of world cities.
Greening’s replacement, Patrick McLoughlin, MP for Derbyshire Dales and a former Conservative Chief Whip, has no such baggage, which will allow the government to take an open view on whether it is preferable to add runways to the existing Heathrow, Stansted, or Gatwick airports, or build a new £50bn one in the Thames Estuary.
McLoughlin told Channel4 News today that he has “a completely open mind” on whether Heathrow needs a third runway.
Theresa Villiers, another opponent of Heathrow expansion and until the reshuffle Minister for Transport, has been moved to the Northern Ireland office, again distancing her from any policy decision on aviation. She said in April that Heathrow expansion was the one option that would not be considered by the Coalition government.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson told the BBC that he could see only one reason why Justine Greening would be moved on, and that was to allow expansion at Heathrow.
In a statement, the Mayor said: “The third runway would mean more traffic, more noise, more pollution – and a serious reduction in the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people.
“We will fight this all the way. Even if a third runway was built, it would not do the job of meeting Britain’s needs.”
Paul Deighton, the chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), will join the cabinet in January as a peer in a new role – Minister for Infrastructure and Economic Delivery. He is expected to be handed the brief of piloting through the review of south east aviation capacity which has been twice delayed thus far.
Business generally supports expansion at Heathrow as it preserves the employment in that area, and offers a more rapid route to increased flights to emerging economies. West London’s local authorities are generally members of the 2M Group, and have policy against any more runways at Heathrow.
An Independent Review has been mooted to get the issue away from local or party politics. Whatever happens, the debate about the future of Heathrow will certainly continue.