Theresa May takes personal charge of Heathrow runway decision

Prime minister Theresa May is to take personal charge of the cabinet group overseeing the Heathrow third runway and is expected to push for decision on the airport plan by October.

The much-delayed decision will be made by the economic affairs (airports) sub-committee by October. A government spokesperson told the Guardian: “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.” 

A number of cabinet ministers including the prime minister are in a delicate spot over airport plans because Heathrow expansion could adversely affect their constituencies.

May’s own Maidenhead constituency is under the night flight route and when home secretary under the Cameron administration she was not a member of the influential cabinet committee on airport capacity. It has been reported in the media that May had been a strong critic of airport expansion in west London, saying that her constituents faced “a reduction in their quality of life with more planes flying overhead”.

Although the composition of the new cabinet sub-committee to consider airport capacity in the south-east has yet to be confirmed, it is widely believed that key opponents of Heathrow expansion, such as the education secretary, Justine Greening, will be on it. Speaking to the Telegraph, Greening has said: “Trying to expand Heathrow is like trying to build an eight-bedroom mansion on the site of a terraced house. It is a hub airport that is just simply in the wrong place.”

Other opponents of expanding Heathrow around Theresa May’s cabinet table include foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the chancellor Philip Hammond.

The Davies commission into airport expansion in the south-east recommended last year that a third runway at Heathrow was the best option. Last December, the government postponed a final decision to look at new analysis of the environmental impacts. This decision was postponed again to October 2015 and then yet again to June this year. After the Brexit vote and the resignation of David Cameron, transport minister Patrick McLoughlin said the decision would be delayed again and it would be one for the new prime minister to make.

Pressure is increasing on the government to make a decision and it looks highly likely that the prime minister will be playing the leading role in whatever is decided.

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