UK Politics

Heathrow Airport: Justine Greening 'will be fair'

Justine Greening
Image caption Miss Greening was promoted in a mini-reshuffle sparked by Liam Fox's resignation

The government has dismissed concerns the transport secretary will not treat aviation fairly, because she has campaigned against Heathrow expansion.

Justine Greening was promoted to the new role on Friday - her constituency is under Heathrow's flight path and she has campaigned against a third runway.

Willie Walsh, boss of British Airways' owner IAG, has reportedly raised concerns about a conflict of interest.

The department said she would carry out her duties "fairly and responsibly".

The coalition scrapped Labour's plans for a third runway at Heathrow, in west London, days after coming to power in 2010 - and said it would also refuse any additional runways at two other airports in the south east - Gatwick and Stansted.

'Fantastic news'

The third runway plan was unpopular with those living under Heathrow's flight path - many of whom are in Miss Greening's Putney constituency. She greeted the decision to scrap it by saying it was "really fantastic news".

But Heathrow's operator BAA has long argued that without expansion, the UK would lose out to rival European cities as a place to visit and do business.

In an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, BAA's chief executive Colin Matthews said he hoped a third runway at Heathrow would be included as an option in the government's next aviation policy document.

And the Telegraph has reported that Willie Walsh, chairman of International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, is worried about a potential conflict of interest with Miss Greening's appointment as transport secretary - part of a mini-reshuffle prompted by Liam Fox's resignation as defence secretary.

A source at IAG said: "Justine Greening is MP for Putney and has campaigned against the third runway at Heathrow. Someone who has actively campaigned against expansion may not have a neutral stance when it comes to addressing the critical issue of investment in aviation infrastructure in London."

Asked whether it had concerns about Ms Greening's appointment, a spokesman for Heathrow's operator BAA said: "We understand the difference between campaigning as a constituency MP and taking decisions in the national interest as a minister.

"We had a number of constructive meetings with Justine Greening on Air Passenger Duty when she was at the Treasury and we trust we will receive a fair hearing from her as Secretary of State for Transport."

'Fairly and responsibly'

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said Miss Greening "looks forward to working with Willie Walsh and other figures in the aviation industry".

He added: "There are transport considerations in every constituency but these do not prevent ministers from carrying out their duties fairly and responsibly.

"The government's position on a third runway at Heathrow was made clear 17 months ago in the coalition agreement.

"We are also committed to developing a new policy framework for aviation which supports economic growth while addressing the environmental impacts of flying and plan to publish a draft aviation policy for consultation in the spring."

Miss Greening got a message of support from her Conservative colleague and environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith via the Twitter website who said she had been "heroic re the third runway, and she knows importance of green economics".

Louise Ellman, chairman of the Commons Transport Committee, which will question Miss Greening on Wednesday, said: "I think she has to be judged as secretary of state on what she does in her role."

And Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle added: "I have no doubt that the new transport secretary will be able to set aside personal constituency considerations and the claims of a conflict of interest are just a distraction".

More on this story