Heathrow expansion on track for MPs' backing in upcoming Commons vote as Gatwick seeks to reopen runway debate

Rebecca Smith
The transport secretary is expecting to bring a final policy statement before MPs in the first half of next year
The transport secretary is expecting to bring a final policy statement before MPs in the first half of next year (Source: Getty)

The government is confident of securing the parliamentary majority needed to progress with Heathrow expansion next year, transport secretary Chris Grayling said today.

His Labour counterpart, Andy McDonald, agreed, saying he felt the “overwhelming majority" was there.

Concerns had been raised that the government could face resistance when the airports national policy statement goes before the House of Commons in the first half of next year, considering its majority was slashed in the General Election, while some key Cabinet ministers have previously been vocal opponents of expansion.

And speaking at the Airport Operators Association annual conference, Grayling said his number one priority for the coming months will be to “make sure nobody has any wobbles along the way”.

Read more: Heathrow boss says Labour is not backsliding on support for third runway

But he added: “I’m very confident that we will have the majority there in parliament to deliver this."

There have been reports that Labour will look to lead a backlash against expansion, with question marks remaining over air quality. The Liberal Democrats have also maintained opposition to Heathrow expansion.

Grayling said: "It would be, I think, something of a political volte-face for Labour MPs to turn around and say, well actually guys we’re not going to let our regional airports have the connections they need to around the world."

Meanwhile, shadow transport secretary McDonald said today that Labour supports extra runway capacity should its four tests be met, but that "they remain a challenge".

However, when asked if he thinks, at present, there is sufficient parliamentary support to progress Heathrow expansion, McDonald said: "My honest assessment of the parliamentary support is an overwhelming yes."

He notes there has been opposition to Heathrow from senior members of the Conservative party, with the current Prime Minister "vehemently opposed to expansion in 2009", and "they're not insignificant these voices of dissent".

"But I think from my own party's perspective, I think the vast majority of members of parliament, and the labour and trade union movements as a whole, is wanting to see this development take place," he added.

"I'm not putting any spin on that, that's just the reality; the support is there."

The comments come as Gatwick boss Stewart Wingate today sought to reopen the expansion debate.

Pointing to updated aviation forecasts and other information on air quality published by the government last week for public consultation, Wingate said: "This new information based on updated forecasts - all published by the government itself and not by Gatwick - effectively turns the Airports Commission work on its head. They completely undermine the basis of the case for expanding Heathrow."

This new consultation now acknowledges in black and white that expanding Gatwick is better for both the economy and the environment.

He added: "We will continue to examine the new information, but Gatwick is thriving and can offer even more for passengers and the wider economy.

"As we approach this capacity crunch Gatwick continues to stand ready to deliver a privately financed second runway to help Britain prosper."

Read more: Heathrow and Gatwick record new heights for passenger traffic in September

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