So where do the parties stand?
Let’s start with the Greens because they are probably the simplest. They are opposed to any new runways and favour removal of the tax-breaks aviation enjoys in order to curb demand. They estimate it would bring in £16 billion a year to the Exchequer.
UKIP favours reopening Manston to turn its huge former RAF runway into an international airport, with much improved links to London. Manifesto: “The final report of the Davies Commission into airport capacity and connectivity in the UK will be published later this year. UKIP will consider its recommendations and then take a position on the basis of what we genuinely believe to be in the long-term best interests of the country. However, we firmly believe that part of the solution to address the lack of airport capacity in the South East is to re-open Manston Airport. Manston is ideally placed to take low-cost airlines and freight-only aircraft; it is close to the railway network; enjoys good connections to Ashford International; will release additional capacity in the region; and take pressure off other airports.
The Liberal Democrats manifesto says: “Ensure our airport infrastructure meets the needs of a modern and open economy, without allowing emissions from aviation to undermine our goal of a zero-carbon Britain by 2050. We will carefully consider the conclusions of the Davies Review into runway capacity and develop a strategic airports policy for the whole of the UK in the light of those recommendations and advice from the Committee on Climate Change. We remain opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, because of local issues of air and noise pollution. We will ensure no net increase in runways across the UK.”
Labour has said it will make a “swift” decision after it has seen the Davies Report but will not necessarily endorse Davies. Some key Labour figures like Ed Balls support a third runway at Heathrow. As does UNITE, the union which sponsors many Labour candidates and backs the party with money. The key may be Ed Miliband himself. He has been a strong opponent of a third runway at Heathrow – has he changed his mind? Will he be strong enough to stand up to Balls and co?
The Conservative position is similar to the Labour one, except they have not talked about necessarily taking a swift decision about runways. Their manifesto simply says: “We will respond to the Airport Commission’s final report. Does the lack of a commitment to a “swift” decision mean they may revisit the idea of an Estuary Airport or an expanded Stansted? Conservative ‘big beasts’ appear divided over Heathrow and Gatwick. The Chancellor is thought to back Heathrow, but a number of cabinet ministers oppose a third runway, including Philip Hammond, Theresa May, Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers. As does the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is likely to become the MP for Uxbridge. There are signals from the Mayor’s office and from MPs like Justine Greening that they would like to see Stansted/Estuary brought back into the equation as they are looking for a four runway airport at some stage in the future.
The SNP are most interested in the key Scottish airports having good links to the rest of the world. This includes better links to London. They feel Gatwick is on the wrong side of London for them and are likely to back Heathrow, but only if it included the best possible deal for residents as they are very aware that no residents in England voted for them to agree to knock down their homes or impose new flight paths.