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Britain to make long-delayed decision on airport expansion next week

By Kylie MacLellan | LONDON

Britain will make a long-awaited decision next week on where to allow airport expansion near London, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday, with ministers who oppose it given the rare opportunity to publicly voice their dissent.

The government will either support plans for a new runway west of London at Heathrow, the busiest airport in both Britain and Europe, or at Gatwick to the south. The decision has been debated for more than 25 years.

May’s cabinet discussed the options for more than an hour on Tuesday, her spokeswoman said, but the decision will be made by a smaller group of ministers.

“It was not for cabinet to take a decision today. That will be taken by the cabinet sub-committee on airports, which is due to meet next week and will select a preferred option,” the spokeswoman told reporters.

“There was a strong consensus about the importance of this decision for the country, the need to get on and make a decision … and what it would mean for the UK economy and the nation that we want to be as we leave the European Union.”

The sub-committee, chaired by May, does not include key opponents of Heathrow expansion such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Justine Greening.

Media reports have said the sub-committee will meet next Tuesday, Oct. 25, but the spokeswoman declined to specify the date.

In 2015 a three-year independent inquiry set up by the government recommended building a new runway at Heathrow, subject to a list of conditions over night flights, noise and air quality, and it is seen as the front-runner.

May took the rare step of promising colleagues who oppose the decision that they would be allowed to publicly air their views for “a certain period”, in a break with normal procedure that ministers must support a government decision.

“There will be a special arrangement put in place which will allow certain ministers, those who have either got long set-out views or maybe a constituency interest, some flexibility to set out their personal position,” the spokeswoman said.

Media interpreted this as a strong signal the government would back Heathrow, as there are no high profile ministers who oppose Gatwick expansion.

May, whose own constituency is under the Heathrow flight path and whose local council is preparing a legal challenge against Heathrow expansion, told colleagues the decision must be taken in the national interest and whichever option was chosen would be a boost for business and competitiveness.

The spokeswoman said the government would set out in due course whether parliament would get to vote on the decision.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)


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