Heathrow expansion back on agenda despite PM's pledge

Cameron promised west Londoners it would never happen – now there are TWO Heathrow options

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:01 ON Tue 17 Dec 2013

SIR HOWARD DAVIES, chairman of the Airports Commission, has been accused by Tory MP Zac Goldsmith of bowing to Downing Street pressure by putting the expansion at Heathrow airport firmly back on the agenda for after the 2015 election.

Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park and a leading opponent of Heathrow Three, tweeted: “Howard Davies has been very busy this week, nipping & tucking his entirely independent report - on the instructions of government.”

Downing Street immediately denied the charge, insisting the PM "had no input" into the commission’s decision to shortlist two Heathrow options along with a new runway at Gatwick in today's report.

But it will leave a nasty taste in the mouth for many floating Tory voters who were promised by David Cameron in his 2010 last election manifesto: “Our goal is to make Heathrow airport better, not bigger. We will stop the third runway …”

Whether or not the government leant on the commission, or whether Davies simply saw the writing on the wall – that expansion at Heathrow is the only logical and economical solution – the Tories are set to go into the general election with Heathrow expansion back on the table.

Cameron and Downing Street have clearly signaled that despite the political embarrassment over the 2010 manifesto, they believe that Heathrow is the only realistic option.

Daily Mirror assistant editor Kevin Maguire tweeted: “Cameron's "No ifs, no buts" promise not to expand Heathrow going the way of his rusted 'cast iron' Lisbon Treaty referendum.”

In September last year, when Cameron was challenged at Prime Minister's Questions about breaking the manifesto commitment, he replied: “I will not be breaking my manifesto pledge.”

Well, yes… that's because Cameron's manifesto pledge applies only to this parliament – and the decision as to which airport option to go for will not be taken until after the May 2015 election. 

Cameron's position would be worse if Labour had been more consistent. As Andrew Neil tweeted this morning, hitting back at the Mirror's Maguire: “Of course Labour has been entirely consistent over Heathrow...” 

Goldsmith is now almost certain to carry out his threat to quit Parliament in protest at Heathrow expansion – leaving his plum west London seat to be snapped up by Boris Johnson.

Which brings us to the London mayor and his dream of constructing a totally new airport on the Isle of Grain in the Thames estuary.

Johnson welcomed the Davies report this morning because it kept alive the faint hope of 'Boris Island': Davies said the commission needed more time to consider this revolutionary alternative and promised to report back next year on whether it should be added to the Heathrow and Gatwick options.

“We are not dead yet – that is the good news,” Johnson said on Radio 4's Today programme. “There’s a clear choice now – it’s basically Heathrow or you go for a new option. Gatwick alone won’t do the job. If you have a new runway at Gatwick that won’t make a bean of difference because the airlines will want to go to Heathrow.

“Our contention is that building another runway in west London is crackers because all it will do is feed the beast. Once you build a third London airway there will be insatiable demands for a fourth runway. It will be catastrophic for the quality of life. You will be consigning millions to misery.” 

Johnson refuted Davies's warning that the Isle of Grain scheme would could cost an astronomical £112 billion: the mayor said most of the cost of the new airport would be borne by international investment. He may be thinking of China, which he visited recently.

And he warned that the expansion of Heathrow would mean "concreting over the M25", probably closing it for five years to allow the runway to be extended across it, with disruption of other major roads including the M4.

Asked whether he would "flounce out" like Zac Goldsmith if Boris Island is not accepted as a viable option, he said: “I believe in going and winning fights rather than flouncing out.”

Meanwhile, Cameron will have a hard job explaining to the voters in west London how the expansion of Heathrow is even being considered. Having originally scoffed at the Thames Estuary idea, Downing Street could yet come to see Boris’s plan as a get-out-of-jail card. ·