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Transport Secretary backs third runway at Heathrow

heathrow third runway
heathrow third runway

The Transport Secretary has said she supports the building of a third runway at Heathrow after nearly three years of tacit opposition under Boris Johnson.

“I'm a supporter [of Heathrow expansion],” Anne-Marie Trevelyan said at a fringe event at the Conservative party conference. “Aviation is a really important part of our growth.”

Ms Trevelyan said expansion of Newcastle Airport had boosted the local economy of her Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency, suggesting the same impact would be seen in London and the South if Heathrow gained another runway.

“An airport is an extraordinary neighbour,” she said. “Little Newcastle… got an Emirates flight for the first time out to Dubai. Literally within months, you could see the shift in exports. You could see the shift in the willingness of businesses to think about exporting.

“It was almost like a cartoon: ‘Build it and they will come’. And that daily flight has completely altered the north-east’s view of exporting.

“So I am an absolute believer, because I've seen what the opportunities for that international aviation hub brings to a local economy.”

After years of wrangling, Heathrow's £14bn plan to build a third runway was originally given the green light in 2018 under Theresa May.

Protesters against a possible third runway at Heathrow and aviation in general for contributing to climate change stage a flash mob die-in - Kristian Buus/In Pictures
Protesters against a possible third runway at Heathrow and aviation in general for contributing to climate change stage a flash mob die-in - Kristian Buus/In Pictures

A legal challenge by climate change campaigners was backed by the Court of Appeal before the Supreme Court sided with the airport in December 2020. Bosses, however, must still make a new planning application before building work can begin.

The Covid pandemic, along with Mr Johnson’s long-running opposition to the third runway, led to the scheme being shelved.

Ms Trevelyan said it was “true” that the former prime minister opposed Heathrow's expansion while in government, despite repeatedly ducking the question while in office.

Ms Trevelyan said concerns raised by climate change campaigners about air pollution are no longer valid because of the development of less harmful aviation fuels.

At the same event, the Transport Secretary was confronted by local Conservative politicians over the closing of Doncaster-Sheffield Airport.

A North Nottinghamshire councillor said: “You are in favour of regional development. You are in favour of levelling up. [And yet] you are in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. It's one hour and 20 minutes from London to Doncaster: there's the third runway.”

Peel Group, owned by billionaire shopping centre proprietor John Whittaker, announced earlier this month that the airport would be shutting at the end of October because it was no longer financially viable.

Ms Trevelyan said she has spent “quite a lot of time” trying to broker a rescue and that an offer for taxpayers to underwrite £7m of losses had been submitted to Peel 10 days ago.

She continued: “They [Peel] are of the view that this cannot be a financially viable airport. There are too many close by that take the commercial traffic elsewhere.

“We're not going to go buy the airport. That's not what this government is about.”

During her first Prime Minister's question time in the Commons in September Ms Truss vowed to “protect this airport and this infrastructure” in response to a question about Doncaster Sheffield Airport. She added that regional airports are vital to her economic growth plans.

Beckie Hart, CBI director for Yorkshire & Humber, said the closure was a “serious blow” to the region.

But Steven Underwood, Peel Group chief executive, said: "We will not accept any public sector grant to cover the costs of an airport that is not viable due to its lack of adequate forward revenues and high operating costs."

Despite Ms Trevelyan's comments, there is recent precedent for taxpayers stepping in to nationalised regional airports under a Conservative government. Peel Group owned a majority stake in Teesside International Airport before Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen stepped in to acquire the base for £40m in 2018. Mr Houchen had made taking control of the airport an election pledge to voters in 2017.