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David Cameron has given another hint that a third runway at Heathrow may be back on the agenda after 2015.
In reply to a Commons question yesterday, the Prime Minister said: “We must not be blind to two important considerations – how we expand airport capacity and how we ensure Heathrow operates better.”
The question came from Zak Goldsmith the environmentalist and Tory MP for Richmond Park, a constituency close to Heathrow.
The Consrvative Party campaigned on its opposition to a third runway at the UK’s premier airport during the 2010 general election.
Its deal with the Lib Dems to form the current coalition government also specifically rules out a new runway.
But Cameron’s reply opens up a possible Tory U-turn after the next general election, due by 2015.
If the Conservatives do then favour a third runway, it is likely to please industry and travel chiefs who have long urged a change of mind – but anger environmentalists who strongly oppose any further development at Heathrow.
One, Joss Garman, a campaigner at Greenpeace, was quoted in a national newspaper as saying Cameron's "refusal to give unequivocal line" on Heathrow could lead to the "mother of all U-turns".
The government’s position on aviation is due to be revealed in a White Paper expected to be published sometime this summer. It was originally due to come out in the spring, but was postponed.
Cameron’s remark also comes against a persistent series of Westminster leaks which suggest the Conservative opposition to the third runway or other expansion of airport capability in the south east is mellowing.
Boris Johnson, the recently re-elected Conservative mayor of London, stressed his continued opposition to a third runway and his preference for his own scheme for a new airport in the Thames estuary earlier this week.
Labour originally proposed a third runway while in power but switched to opposition under its new leader Ed Miliband. The party is now looking for all-party discussions on the best way forward on what is an issue which could damage all the main parties.