Tory UK government would reverse Heathrow expansion move

The travel industry has lost the battle for a third Heathrow runway as a Conservative government will not sanction the expansion despite transport secretary Geoff Hoon giving the go-ahead in January.

That is the view of industry lobbyist Gareth Morgan, who told the Guild of Travel Management Companies’ conference in Dubai: “I have no expectation the third runway will go ahead in the next parliament.

“Heathrow has become a huge election issue because the Tories think there are votes in it.”

Conservative leader David Cameron and shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers announced last year they would not sanction a third runway, with Cameron saying the economic case for expansion was unproven.

Many in the industry, including British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh, have suggested the Tory view would change in government.

But Morgan said: “The Tory leadership is passionate about this. It is not just a cold electoral thing. They see it as an election winner. I cannot see the Tories reversing their decision. They do not buy the arguments.”

That would delay work on expanding Heathrow for six years – until the general election after next – given the Conservative lead in the polls going into an election now likely in May 2010. However, it could supper a third runway all together.

Morgan, associate director of Cavendish Communications which lobbies on behalf of the GTMC, told Travolution: “Heathrow for the Conservative Party is parallel to Clause Four for Labour under Tony Blair.

“The Tory instinct is to be pro-business, but they believe saying no to a third Heathrow runway will be an election winner. There is little prospect of changing this in the short term.”

That view will dismay not just BA, other carriers, Heathrow operator BAA and its embattled owner Ferrovial, but also ABTA which continues to lobby for a third runway despite the opposition of at least two board members.

The GTMC also remains committed to support for Heathrow expansion. Morgan said: “Our aim is to build links with pro-aviation Tories, not to undermine the policy – we must not let Heathrow define our relations with the Tory party – but to ensure they are up to speed.

“Tory policy is centred on shifting the business traveller from short-haul flights to rail. Tory leaders put a lot of store on extra rail capacity freeing slots at Heathrow to ease congestion. But the strings on the public purse will be very tight in the next parliament. It is debatable whether a £20 billion high-speed rail project will come to fruition.”

The GTMC has seriously expanded its lobbying activities in the past year. Morgan said the priority had been to gain potential influence with civil servants and opposition politicians – particularly shadow cabinet members – arguing: “It is unlikely there will be a shadow cabinet reshuffle before an election.”

He suggested industry bodies often over-estimate their political clout, pointing out: “At the outset, politicians did not know the GTMC. We must put our point across, but the real point of lobbying is to get the GTMC recognised.”

Morgan did not rule out joining ABTA in its lobbying efforts, but said there were advantages to working independently. “We would consider joining other organisations so long as there is a clear policy position,” he said. “But there are benefits in presenting a different perspective.”

The GTMC aims to produce a Business Traveller Manifesto with a set of proposals to present to politicians by the end of the year.

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