Heathrow Headache for Boris

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has had to publicly deny allegations that he plans to run for Parliament in order to attempt to block the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.  Johnson, who is claimed to have been plotting with Conservative MP for Richmond Park Zac Goldsmith to return to Westminster, has released a statement from his office stating that, although the notion of Goldsmith resigning and Johnson running in his place in a by-election had been discussed, the thought was “laughingly dismissed out of hand” by them both.

Mr Johnson has publicly opposed the proposed building of a third runway and sixth terminal just south of the M4, in an area currently occupied by the village of Sipson, since his mayoral election campaign of 2008. Although the airport operator BAA officially dropped the plans in May of this year, London First, a lobbying group which represent many of the capital’s major businesses, described the expansion of the airport as the “only credible option” and accused the government of being “negligent” and unwilling to consider “politically difficult solutions”.

Several senior Conservatives are keen to see the expansion go forward, but Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, stated publicly on the BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show that the expansion “is not going to happen” and that the best way to move forward is to “look at the alternatives”. He added: “This is not a parochial little problem for south-west London. There are potentially two million people affected by this. There’s an absolute political commitment not to expand Heathrow.”

The expansion of the UK’s aviation network continues to be a contentious issue, as plans for the London Britannia Airport, which will float in the Thames Estuary and be tethered to the seabed, are released by its architects. Alternatives to the expansion of Heathrow include two other floating airports, one of which has been dubbed ‘Boris Island’, and architect Lord Norman Foster has already unveiled his plans for an airport at the Hoo Peninsula on the Kent coast.

Despite this, pressure from senior Conservatives has lead to the Prime Minister setting up a commission chaired by the ex-Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies, which will examine ways to expand the UK’s airport capacity. The new transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has stated that the commission’s purpose is to identify and recommend to the government “options for maintaining this country’s status as an international hub for aviation”. An initial interim report will be published by the end of 2013, which will contain ideas on how to improve the use of existing runway capacity over the next five years, as well as an assessment of what is needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status. The final report will be made by the commission in 2015, after the next general election, leaving the final decision to the next government.

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