A long-awaited decision on airport expansion in the southeast will come next week, Downing Street confirmed.

A special committee of cabinet ministers will choose a “preferred option” for airport expansion from two schemes at Heathrow and 
one at Gatwick.

Heathrow remains the hot favourite to be given the green light for a third runway despite opposition from high-profile Tories. However, a final House of Commons vote won’t take place until the winter of 2017-18.

The government said ministers with long-held opinions would be allowed to set out their views for a limited period after the preferred option is announced.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said a range of views was expressed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, but there was consensus on the importance of the decision for the economy.

The decision to give ministers a limited period to voice their personal views was described as a “mature, commonsense approach”. Some MPs were said to have specific constituency issues.

It was not confirmed whether Conservative MPs would be given a free vote on airport expansion when the issue is debated in the House of Commons. No London MPs and none of the key opponents sit on the committee that will choose the preferred option.

Speaking at Abta’s Travel Convention last week, chairman Noel Josephides raised the issue of the third runway at Heathrow in his closing address. He said: “The possibility of a third runway at Heathrow was first discussed in 2003. Who knows when we will have the finished product?

“You only have to look around and you will see what Abu Dhabi has achieved over the same period. I wonder, will Brexit bring to the UK a little bit of Abu Dhabi’s drive? In our dreams.”