Last updated: September 5, 2012 12:44 pm

PM seeks cross-party support on airports

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David Cameron said he will make an announcement on airports in the next few days, after a reshuffle raised expectations of a U-turn on Heathrow expansion.

The prime minister said he hoped to have cross-party support to address the problem of the hub status of the UK.

But he said this would not mean breaking the Conservative party’s promise not to allow Heathrow expansion during this parliament.

“While I do believe in the need to establish a form of review which can bring parties together to make the decision, I will not be breaking my manifesto pledge,” he said in response to a question at prime minister’s question time on Wednesday.

Earlier, Grant Shapps, the new Conservative party co-chairman, said the government must look at “all the options” for increasing airport capacity in the south-east of England.

The shake-up gave more rightwing Conservatives posts in government and cleared the way for a change in policy on a third runway at Heathrow by replacing outspoken opponent Justine Greening as transport secretary.

Mr Shapps told the BBC’s Today programme: “If we are going to remain one of the great trading nations we need ports and in particular, airports. The lack of slots in the south-east around London must be addressed otherwise we’re dooming ourselves to economic failure in the future.”

But he stressed that the Conservatives had not abandoned their promise to be the greenest government ever, after the appointment of Owen Paterson, who has campaigned against wind farms and in favour of fast-tracking exploitation of shale gas, as environment secretary.

On a visit on Wednesday morning, Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, said a third runway “will not happen” under the coalition.

The Conservatives will also face opposition to a Heathrow U-turn from within their own ranks – not least from Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who has strongly criticised any plans for expansion at the west London airport.

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday morning that expansion was “a profound mistake” that would do “massive environmental damage” in west London and across the capital.

Zach Goldsmith, the Conservative MP whose west London constituency would be affected, accused the government of not being “clear and straight with the voter”.

He told the Today programme that Heathrow had been ruled out at every stage of the consultations on airport capacity, yet it was “impossible to pretend” the reshuffle did not raise the possibility of a change of policy on a third runway.

Mr Goldsmith reiterated his threat to trigger a by-election if the government did perform a U-turn on the airport’s expansion.

Expanding Stansted airport is among the myriad other options also being considered. Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, said on Tuesday he would push for a second runway at the airport “as soon as possible” if the budget airline was to take a stake in London’s third largest airport.

After Mr Cameron brought more rightwing Conservatives into cabinet, Mr Clegg insisted the government “remains anchored in the centre ground”.

“Right from day one this government was anchored in the centre ground. We’ve got a coalition agreement which is there, which is a tablet of stone setting out what we are going to do,” he said. “That is not going to change.”

But Tim Farron, Lib Dem president, said that if the prime minister had shifted to the right in the reshuffle, that was a result of his weakness.

“If he has tacked to the right this time round, then it is proof that his claim to the centre ground has evaporated and that is bad news for the Tory party,” he told BBC news.

Rob Wilson, a Tory backbencher, said the reshuffle was part of the process of divorce with the Lib Dems.

But Mr Shapps said the reshuffle was designed to put in a place a team which could deliver on the laws passed since the government came to power in 2010.

“The predecessor pack put policy in place, they got it off the board and in many cases legislated. This is the team for delivering on that and getting the economy moving,” he said.

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