A Tory government led by David Cameron would veto a third runway at Heathrow in favour of a high-speed rail link from London.
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers told the Conservative Party conference today: “A Conservative government would say no to a third runway at Heathrow.”
Instead, Villiers outlined plans for a £20-billion high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. She claimed the line would cut 66,000 flights a year at Heathrow.
The line would be new, freeing existing inter-city lines for commuter trains, and cut the London-Manchester rail journey to 80 minutes. Heathrow would also get a high-speed rail link to St Pancras, said Villiers.
The announcment drew a furious response from the aviation industry, with UK Board of Airline Representatives’ chief executive Mike Carrivick calling it “a disaster”
Carrivick said: “The Tory rationale does not match the facts and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the airport. Airlines will welcome high-speed rail links at Heathrow – preferably ones that avoid London all together. However, the share of domestic services they will replace is small and does not impinge on the need to expand the airport.”
A spokesman for airport operator BAA described the rail scheme as “a false choice”, saying: “The lack of airport capacity must be addressed.”
Outgoing transport secretary Ruth Kelly was expected to give the go-ahead for a third runway this autumn, with airlines and business groups solidly in support. However, Kelly announced her resignation last week – a move likely to delay the decision. In any case, the final go-ahead will depend on the next government.