New transport secretary Grant Shapps has hinted that the government could consider a U-turn on plans to build a third runway at Heathrow.
Speaking to Sky News, Shapps reiterated that Parliament voted in favour of Heathrow expansion as a means of increasing air travel capacity in the South East, but pointed out that prime minister Boris Johnson was “obviously and famously so against” the scheme back when he was elected as the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
However, Shapps added that “there are questions about whether the whole plan stacks up”. He said: “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 continued: “But there are of course court cases to do with emissions, that sort of thing so what we’ve said is we’ll watch that process very carefully and in the meantime 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.”
The Stop Heathrow Expansion campaign group latched onto the comments, with spokesman Robert Barnstone saying: “This refreshing move, compared with Mr Shapps’ predecessor [Chris Grayling], 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.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, added: “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.”
Heathrow is running a public consultation on its plan for expansion, which closes on 13 September, but the airport still faces a legal challenge after Heathrow Hub, which is proposing an extended northern runway as an alternative to a new landing strip, won the right to appeal a ruling against it. Proceedings are due to begin in October.