The Davies Commission into airport expansion has reccomended a third runway at Heathrow, putting the government on a collision course with some of its most senior members. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a strong supporter of the third runway, but Theresa May, the Home Secretary, Justine Greening, the Development Secretary, Greg Hands, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond all have seats that are affected by expansion and are likely to strongly oppose expansion.
Greening, who was moved from the Transport brief in 2012 due to her opposition in Heathrow, is thought to be implacably opposed to a third runway, as is Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor and newly-installed MP for Ruislip & Uxbridge, and Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond and Johnson’s likely successor as the Tory standard-bearer in London. Sadiq Khan, one of the Labour candidates for Mayor, is also opposed to Heathrow expansion, although his rivals, Gareth Thomas, David Lammy and Tessa Jowell all back the Davies report.
Although superficially, the Liberal Democrat wipe-out clears the path for Heathrow expansion – that party is opposed to airport expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick – Conservative insiders believe that the problem has simply taken on a new form. “With them, it was 30 per cent environmentalism, 70 per cent opportunism,” says one Conservative, suggesting that constituency pressure may have had more to do with Liberal opposition to Heathrow than green concerns. “Now it’s our people who have [these seats].”
The second runway at Gatwick – which the commission has also not ruled out – may prove a more politically palatable option, despite the championing of Heathrow by Sir Howard Davies, the Commission chair.