Labour members of the London Assembly have come under attack for shifting their position on the building of a new runway at Heathrow Airport.
All four parties currently represented at City Hall have consistently opposed any expansion at Heathrow, a position made clear in their respective 2008 and 2012 manifestos. However Labour’s opposition has softened following the airports commission’s recent recommendation to build a third runway at the airport.
The commission said the new runway should be restricted to day use and subject to “legally binding” limits on noise levels but opponents say these conditions are insufficient to resolve their concerns about its impact on those living nearby and under the flightpath.
While City Hall’s Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative groups remain opposed to any expansion, Labour now says the Government’s final decision should be the “result of evidence based analysis” rather than being based on political concerns.
Opponents say the party’s shifting position is the result of differences between the frontrunners to become its candidate in next year’s Mayoral election, with Tooting MP Sadiq opposed to expansion and Dame Tessa Jowell suggesting she’s more open to increased capacity at the airport.
During a debate on Tuesday, Green party Assembly Member Darren Johnson said the party “doesn’t know if it’s going to be pro-Heathrow expansion under Tessa Jowell or anti under Sadiq Khan” during the mayoral contest and so was having to find a middle-path until its candidate is announced later this week.
Today’s debate ended with Labour AMs declining to back a motion restating the Assembly’s opposition to a third runway.
Speaking after the vote, Conservative AM Andrew Boff claimed his Labour counterparts had “sacrificed their principles by putting the interests of their Mayoral candidates above Londoners.”
He added: “Today they chose to worry about political power rather than the interests of those they serve. We’ll carry on opposing a third runway at Heathrow and fighting for the interests of Londoners.”
Labour’s decision not to back the motion was also criticised by Mayor Boris Johnson who said: “This U-turn from London Labour, who campaigned against expansion at election time, shows why they cannot be trusted to run our city.”
However the party’s transport spokesperson, Val Shawcross AM, said she and colleagues still don’t believe the case for expansion had been made and insisted “there remain serious questions about the environmental, noise and public transport impact” of any new runway.
She added: “Whilst not insurmountable, Government would have to insist on far stronger measures to tackle air pollution and to manage the dramatic impact expansion would have on the transport network.
“Although important for economic growth, the Government cannot just nod Heathrow expansion through without proper scrutiny. There’s a long list of concerns which need to be addressed before I could see Heathrow’s expansion going ahead.”