(Adds Heathrow comment)
By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON Oct 18 Britain will make a long-awaited
decision next week on where to allow airport expansion near
London, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokeswoman said on
Tuesday, with ministers who oppose it given the rare opportunity
to publicly voice their dissent.
The decision will be subject to public consultation before
it is put to parliament for its backing late 2017 or early 2018.
The government will either support plans for a new runway
west of London at Heathrow, the busiest airport in both Britain
and Europe, or at Gatwick to the south. The decision has been
debated for more than 25 years.
May's cabinet discussed the options for more than an hour on
Tuesday, her spokeswoman said, but the decision will be made by
a smaller group of ministers.
"It was not for cabinet to take a decision today. That will
be taken by the cabinet sub-committee on airports, which is due
to meet next week and will select a preferred option," the
spokeswoman told reporters.
"There was a strong consensus about the importance of this
decision for the country, the need to get on and make a decision
... and what it would mean for the UK economy and the nation
that we want to be as we leave the European Union."
The sub-committee, chaired by May, does not include key
opponents of Heathrow expansion such as Foreign Secretary Boris
Johnson and Education Secretary Justine Greening.
Media reports have said it will meet next Tuesday, Oct. 25,
but the spokeswoman declined to specify the date.
In 2015 a three-year independent inquiry set up by the
government recommended building a new runway at Heathrow,
subject to a list of conditions over night flights, noise and
air quality, and it is seen as the front-runner.
Heathrow said in a statement the process was in line with
its expectations, and that if given the go-ahead it would apply
for planning approval following the parliamentary vote.
In a break with normal procedure that ministers must support
the government position, May took the rare step of promising
colleagues who oppose the decision that they would be allowed to
publicly air their views.
Media interpreted this as a strong signal the government
would back Heathrow, as there are no high profile ministers who
oppose Gatwick expansion.
In a letter to ministers published on Tuesday, May said the
exception would only apply to those who had previously expressed
strong opinions or had a directly affected constituency.
Ministers would have to seek her approval to oppose the
government and would not be able to actively campaign against
the decision, speak against the government in parliament or
criticise the decision-making process itself, she said.
(Additional reporting by William James, Editing by Stephen