Nick Clegg yesterday came to the defence of embattled transport secretary Justine Greening, insisting that there would be no change to Heathrow policy before 2015. Here is our story in today’s FT.
We wrote that Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, has invited the government to open cross-party talks to try to thrash out an alternative to Heathrow. Philip Hammond, the previous transport secretary, was poised to agree to such talks just before he was moved to the MoD nearly a year ago.
Labour is opposed to the third runway at Heathrow (Ed Miliband nearly resigned over the issue when he was energy secretary) although some senior figures such as Ed Balls and Lord Adonis are in favour.
Here is the letter:
Rt Hon Justine Greening MP
Secretary of State for Transport
Department for Transport
28th August 2012
I am writing following your interview on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning and, in particular, your comments on a cross-party consensus on aviation policy.
You will recall that I wrote to you on this issue on 31st October last year, ahead of the meeting that we had on 2nd November 2011. In my letter, a copy of which is attached, I repeated the call I had made earlier in the day in a speech to the Airport Operators Association for a cross-party approach to future aviation policy. I made a clear and unambiguous offer to work together on a joint position on the difficult issue of how best to meet the country’s future aviation capacity needs. To date, nearly one year on, I have not received a formal response to my initial letter.
The aviation industry and wider business community has strongly endorsed the call for such a cross-party approach and, most importantly, for the certainty that an agreed position that lasted beyond a single parliament would give. The fact that both our parties went into the last election with contrary positions on aviation capacity was, I’m sure you will agree, detrimental to delivering the long term certainty that is needed.
I have been clear since being appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Transport that Labour did not agree with the position taken in the Coalition Agreement that any additional aviation capacity in the South East should be ruled out. However, since the Autumn Statement, it’s clear that the Government also now accepts that this is not a sensible position. However, you have repeatedly postponed the call for evidence on how best to meet our future aviation capacity needs.
As I made clear in my speech to the AOA, in my letter to you and when we met, we have accepted the decision that has been made to cancel the third runway at Heathrow and do not seek to put this back on the agenda, not least because of the local environmental impact. As you said this morning on the Today programme, there is therefore now a cross-party consensus on this issue.
I have in the last year rejected the option of building a new airport in the Thames Estuary. I have taken time to study these proposals carefully, including visiting the proposed sites and listening to a wide range of experts including at NATS. I am confident that any serious consideration of alternatives to a third runway at Heathrow will also conclude that this is not a serious workable proposition, not least because it would require the closure of Heathrow with the economic and employment consequences that would bring for West London.
Despite the fact that there is now so much agreement on this issue, you have not chosen to take up my repeated offer to work on a cross-party basis to agree on an alternative to the rejected third runway at Heathrow and the unworkable Thames Estuary proposals. Your view has appeared to be that cross-party working involves the Government coming to a conclusion and Labour agreeing to it. That was, in effect, what you said when we met. That is not the way to achieve a durable long term position.
I was however encouraged that your words this morning may represent a greater willingness to work together for the good of the country on this issue, in the same way as it is right that we do on HS2 – another important issue that requires agreement across parliaments.
Can I therefore repeat my offer to put aside party differences and work together on long term aviation policy?
I hope that you will also agree that there should be a clear role for the Committee on Climate Change in ensuring that any proposals that emerge are fully consistent with the emission reduction goals set by the last government – including the clear target to which the Coalition has yet to reaffirm its commitment.
I look forward to hearing from you and would, of course, be happy to meet at any time to discuss this issue further. I am, as before, putting our offer and this letter in the public domain.
Maria Eagle MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport