The Liberal Democrats published the agenda for their autumn conference today, and one of the motions on the paper is on ‘a sustainable future for aviation’. Conference will debate the motion, tabled by Julian Huppert, on Sunday 23 September, and you can read it in full here. In essence, it rejects new runways at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick, and calls for UK aviation policy to be based on: accessibility from north and south, growth with the UK’s carbon budgets, minimal impact to the local population, minimal impact on the local environment and maximum hubbing potential.
This is not surprising, but if conference approves the motion in full, it will make life awkward for the coalition, which is coming under increasing pressure to increase airport capacity in the South East. Justine Greening’s opposition to a third runway at Heathrow is a block that could be removed by September’s reshuffle, but I understand that within the Liberal Democrat camp, some at the top are starting to seriously consider expanding Stansted. Sources suggest the party is beginning to recognise that they need some more airport capacity to enable growth, and that Crossrail could be linked in to an expansion project at Stansted to answer this demand.
The local MP, Sir Alan Haselhurst, is opposed to this idea. He says: ‘I would be fully opposed to this: Crossrail would not come anywhere near Stansted and it would be a stopping service, so they would have to build a new line. I am much more in favour of the Estuary proposals. There is no other solution to my mind.’
Sir Alan adds that he feels ministers are growing more sympathetic to the idea of an airport in the Estuary. But Huppert’s motion isn’t happy with that, either. ‘A Thames Estuary airport would be extremely expensive; catastrophic for local wildlife; a dangerous investment due to the location of the SS Richard Montgomery; liable to bird-strike; and poorly-located for those living outside London and the South-East,’ it says.