Transport secretary Justine Greening insisted yesterday the government won’t budge on its ban on a third runway at Heathrow despite plans to consult on options for expanding airport capacity around London.

Greening told the House of Commons the coalition would be “sticking to” its pledge to rule out expansion at Heathrow

She told MPs: “Let’s be clear: the coalition agreement standards. This government cancelled plans for a third runway and we’ll be sticking to that.”

The ban on a third runway forms part of the coalition agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

Greening, who as MP for Putney has campaigned against a third runway, said: “Expanding Heathrow further would pose significant challenges to local communities and those should be taken extremely seriously. . . The coalition agreement stands in its entirety and that is the position.”

The government is poised to consult on expanding airport capacity in the south east, with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, BAA, Abta and business organisations calling for all options to be considered.

Greening’s statement came as London newspaper the Evening Standard quoted Willie Walsh, head of BA parent International Airlines Group, saying both a third runway and a new hub airport would be needed.

Walsh joined an Evening Standard debate on Wednesday at which he dismissed a new hub airport in the Thames estuary as “a distraction” and said: “I don’t believe it will be built.”

However, the Evening Standard quoted Walsh as saying: “I think we need to build a third runway at Heathrow, then we need to plan and build a new hub airport. I’m open to where it should be built.

“A third runway probably gets you 20-25 years, but not much more. I can’t see where you would put a fourth Heathrow runway.”

The Standard quoted Walsh saying a new hub should have the potential to grow to at least four runways.

The remarks will be seized upon by supporters of architect Norman Foster’s plan for a new airport on the Isle of Grain and London mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for a Thames estuary airport – Boris Island – as evidence of a change of policy at BA, which has previously said it would not move from Heathrow.

The Evening Standard has campaigned consistently for Johnson and his Boris Island proposal.

Walsh’s comments are also likely to be seized on by opponents of any airport expansion in the south east as evidence of the aviation industry’s real ambitions.

An IAG spokeswoman said: “Willie was asked his personal opinion in the short, medium and long term and said personally he thought in the short term there was a need for a third runway at Heathrow. In the long term the government has to look at a new hub airport.

“But any new hub airport would take 20-25 years. He was talking long term. He did not say where that capacity should be.

“He wasn’t asked whether Heathrow should be closed in favour of a new hub airport in the Thames estuary. But he said there is a need to consider all options.”