Transport secretary Justine Greening will not be bounced into another “quick fix” when she launches a major review of aviation strategy this summer.
She pointed out the UK may end up needing a hub airport with four runways, not three, as being proposed by aviation industry supporters of expansion at Heathrow.
Speaking to the London Evening Standard, Greening said: “We’ve got to get beyond this kind of pub-style debate we have had, where people have really chased headlines, to a more informed debate that will get us to a much better answer than we have had in the past.”
She accused BAA chief executive Colin Matthews of failing to spell out longer-term needs at Heathrow.
“Obviously Colin Matthews will want to press for a third runway, but my job is to look beyond Colin’s perspective of the next 10 or 15 years,” Greening reportedly said. “My job is to say ‘what do we need for the next 20, 30, 40 or 50 years?’ What if we realise we need a fourth runway? Where would that go at Heathrow?”
She denied that the urgent worry about economic growth had softened attitudes to a third runway. “I don’t think the mood has particularly changed,” Greening said.
Greening refused to be drawn on rival schemes, including proposals for extra runways at Gatwick or Stansted, plus London mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for a four-runway hub in the Thames Estuary.
She said the industry could free up more take off and landing slots at Heathrow itself if it chose.
“Key companies like BA are the ones who actually decide where the slots go every day,” Greening said. “At the moment Heathrow has 41 slots to North America and just 14 in total to the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China) if you exclude Hong Kong.”
She added: “I don’t think any of the facts have changed in relation to the arguments for or against a third runway. The impact on people, on congestion, on air pollution are all still there.”
Greening said: “The Victorians planned ahead — now we should plan ahead for the aviation sector.”