Transport secretary Grant Shapps has cast doubt over the Heathrow third runway after he questioned whether the £14bn plan "stacks up".
Shapps, who replaced Chris Grayling when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last month, said that while parliament had voted in favour of the third runway, there were "questions about whether the whole plan stacks up".
“This is privately funded. They’re going to need to make sure they bring in enough income to justify the billions of pounds spent on it, that’s something that we'll be taking a really, really close look at, I certainly will as the new transport secretary," he told Sky News.
Shapps said he would be watching court cases lodged against local councils and campaigners who are concerned about the impact of noise, pollution and climate change.
"I’ll be having a really close look at whether figures stack up or whether building more capacity, another runway there, would add to the charges to such an extent that it doesn’t," he said.
Airlines have long voiced concern that Heathrow will help pay for the project through landing charges that are levied on the airlines and which could then be passed on to passengers.
Grayling promised that charges would be kept “as close as possible to current levels” but airlines, including British Airways parent IAG, are concerned that costs are increasing, making this pledge increasingly difficult to meet.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry association that represents 13 UK-registered carriers, said: “Whilst airlines support expansion, the Transport Secretary is right to review Heathrow’s funding. Costs are running out of control and the scheme is too expensive”.
Rob Barnstone from Stop Heathrow Expansion said Shapps' said: “This refreshing move, compared with Mr Shapps’ predecessor, acknowledges the serious hurdles that Heathrow are far from ever overcoming.
“Whether it is Heathrow’s overconfidence of being able to deliver the necessary funds for this project or the catastrophic environmental impacts, it is becoming clearer than ever that a third runway won’t be able to be delivered on time or budget and certainly does not fit within the government’s environmental commitments of net zero emissions by 2050.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: "The secretary of state is right, parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of expanding Heathrow because our plan stacks up. Our plan is currently out for statutory consultation – it’s affordable and meets strict, legally-binding environmental targets.
"This critical project is entirely privately-funded, and over the next few years we will create tens of thousands of new skilled jobs, boost British exporters by billions and generate the competition and choice that will lower airfares for passengers. This plan gives Britain the springboard to succeed in the world and it is exactly what our country needs now – that’s why we’re getting on with delivering it. "