Details of airports review set out

Aviation policy has become a political hot potato for the coalition Government

Aviation policy has become a political hot potato for the coalition Government

First published in National News © by

The man charged with pointing the way forward for UK airport expansion is to set out his work plans.

Former Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies will explain how his Whitehall-appointed commission intends to operate.

Aviation policy has become a political hot potato for the coalition Government and few will envy Sir Howard in his task of making recommendations on future expansion.

Nearly everyone involved in aviation recognises the need for airport expansion if the UK is to compete on a world economic and tourist stage.

But unanimity about how to achieve this is in short supply, with some such as London mayor Boris Johnson backing a new Thames Estuary airport and others preferring to see expansion at Heathrow or at one of the other major airports.

Sir Howard's task is to bring out an interim report by the end of 2013 and then a full report in summer 2015 - after the next general election.

Mr Johnson, among others, has been critical of the timescale imposed on Sir Howard, saying that the Government is moving far too slowly, with the "continued inertia being fully exploited by our European rivals". Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Heseltine has also been critical of the Government, saying this week that he would like to see more progress on airports and other big infrastructure problems.

Some have viewed the Conservatives' approach to aviation with a degree of cynicism, arguing that the Tories are, deep down, keen to reverse their earlier decision and give the go-ahead to a third runway.

However, such an expansion at the west London airport is fraught with political sensitivity, with the Liberal Democrats firmly against it. There has been talk of the Davies Commission, and its timetable, being an attempt to "kick the matter into the long grass" until after the 2015 election.

Significantly Sir Howard was appointed in September after Patrick McLoughlin took over as Transport Secretary from Justine Greening. Ms Greening, who represents Putney in south-west London, was firmly opposed to a third runway at Heathrow and her move to International Development in the Government reshuffle was seen by some as allowing the Tories to at least consider Heathrow expansion more freely.

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