Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

MPs step up third runway pressure

Heathrow airport
BAA says Heathrow needs a third runway to remain competitive

Nearly 40 Labour MPs have joined calls for the government to rethink plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The number of MPs who have signed Labour MP John Grogan's motion has swelled to 95. Both the Lib Dems and Conservatives oppose the new runway.

Gordon Brown says he backs a new runway "in principle" but will look at "all the environmental considerations".

Earlier the Lib Dems and Tories called for a Commons debate amid reports the cabinet was "divided" on the issue.

Mr Grogan says senior ministers are focused on the economy and the Heathrow plan could be a "distraction".

His Commons motion also suggests the government relied too heavily on data from the British Airports Authority in assessing the case for expansion, and says it gave "insufficient regard" to the environmental impact and accepted too much evidence which was "deeply flawed".

Strong opposition

His motion has attracted 95 signatures, 38 of them other Labour MPs - among those signing it overnight were former ministers Michael Meacher and Frank Dobson.

A decision on the runway was expected by the end of the year but Mr Grogan has said ministers are focused on the economic crisis and the decision is not "set in stone".

New Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs on Wednesday he would make a decision after studying a summary of the 70,000 responses to the consultation.

There must be some hope that we can change the government's mind
Simon Hughes
Liberal Democrats
The plan faces strong opposition from environmental groups and people living near the west London airport.

In the Commons on Thursday, both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives called for a debate on Heathrow.

Lib Dem Simon Hughes said it appeared "there must be some hope that we can change the government's mind" while shadow Commons leader Theresa May suggested the government had "adopted" the Conservatives' policy on backing high-speed rail.

She asked if "the government is going to make a U-turn and adopt our policy on a third runway as well?"

Commons leader Harriet Harman repeated the government's position - that London had fewer runways than other European capital cities, and that ministers "in principle" backed a third runway, subject to consideration of environmental concerns, an "extensive" consultation and scientific studies.

But she added: "As far as the investment in rail infrastructure being her party's idea, I mean that is a laugh. When we took over the investment infrastructure ... was all in a state of disrepair and lack of investment."

Airport operator BAA has said Heathrow is "jam-packed" and needs a third runway to remain competitive globally.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have said they will oppose the new runway and would prefer to see high-speed cross-country rail links with connections to Europe.

But a group of high-profile businesses, backed by the CBI and British Chambers of Commerce, say it must go ahead "within strict environmental standards".

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