An aerial image of Lord Foster's Isle of Grain airport plan
by political editor Paul Francis
The government has confirmed it is putting on hold a consultation on the
prospect of a new airport in Kent as it unveiled plans for a separate
debate on aviation.
A consultation paper published by the transport secretary Justine
Greening today excludes the option of a new hub airport for the south
Instead, that will be the subject of a separate discussion paper that is
likely to be published this autumn.
The latest delay is likely to frustrate both opponents and supporters of
the idea and comes against a backdrop of rumours suggesting the
government was reconsidering its options for Heathrow and could revisit
the idea of a third runway there.
Announcing today's consultation on the Aviation Policy Framework, the
transport secretary Justine Greening made clear that the debate on
capacity could not be deferred indefinitely.
She defended the government's approach against critics who believe the
option of a new airport is being kicked into the long grass.
"This is a structured process towards delivering a solution that is
sustainable, not only economically and environmentally but also
politically," she said. "The failure of successive governments to tackle this issue shows that we need to get it right this time."
"Success depends upon agreeing a solution that can be delivered
regardless of the political cycle and that requires an objective
evidence-based process which draws on the views of the full range of
In a statement, the Department for Transport said the option of a new
airport would come under the spotlight in a separate consultation.
"We intend to issue, later this year, a Call for Evidence on maintaining
the UK's international connectivity. This will include an opportunity to
comment on what, if any, new airport capacity may be required to meet
the UK's needs in the medium and long term."
Maria Eagle MP, Labour's shadow transport secretary, said: "Ministers have made a huge mistake in again delaying the call for evidence on how best to meet this challenge. The divisions within government that are preventing a way forward being agreed are not just between the Tories and Liberal Democrats but between the transport secretary, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.
"The aviation industry and Britain's wider business community have
called for a cross-party consensus on aviation that lasts beyond the
term of one Parliament. It makes no sense for the political parties to
work separately on this and come up with different solutions.
"That's why Labour has repeatedly offered to work with the government to develop a sensible alternative to the rejected Heathrow third runway and the
unworkable Thames Estuary proposals. It's time for ministers to put an
end to the current mixed messages, dither and delay."