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News round-up: Heathrow, infrastructure and government reshuffle

A round-up of the stories making national headlines at the weekend, including Heathrow expansion, the next steps on infrastructure guarantees and a government reshuffle.

  • Chancellor George Osborne became the latest high-profile member of the Cabinet to indicate expansion at Heathrow could be on the cards.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Osborne said “let’s examine all the options” on the need for extra runway capacity in the South-east. He said there was a question of “where it should go - Heathrow, a new estuary airport, Stansted, Gatwick - people have lots of different options”.

The statement followed MP Tim Yeo’s call last week for “an immediate go-ahead for a third runway… the start of a new era, the moment the Cameron government found its sense of mission”. He said the prime minister “must ask himself whether he is a man or a mouse” on the issue.

  • Meanwhile The Sunday Times reported that a document produced for architects Foster + Partners, which has produced plans for an airport on the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary in Kent, suggest it would take just two years longer than proposals to extend Heathrow with a third runway.

Robbie Owen, a partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, the law firm that authored the report, told the Sunday Times: “This assumption that runway three is a quick win in terms of planning and policy process, let alone construction timescale, is incorrect.”

The Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill is due to be launched this week to allow the government to underwrite “nationally significant” projects, that are ready to start construction within 12 months, are financially credible and “good value” for taxpayers.

  • The prime minister will embark on a major reshuffle of his government at all ranks, say reports.

Among those tipped to move portfolios is housing minister Grant Shapps, Conservative party chairman Baroness Warsi and transport secretary Justine Greening.

Candidates mooted for demotion include justice secretary Kenneth Clarke and Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan. Several senior figures including business secretary Vince Cable are believed to be resisting a move from their portfolios.

The Guardian reported that senior figures such as George Osborne, William Hague and Theresa May are all expected to remain in their posts.

  • The chancellor also called for greater use of existing powers enabling Green Belt land to be swapped, enabling land to be developed on some sites in exchange for new land being categorised as Green Belt.

Mr Osborne also urged action to speed up the planning process, saying it was “absolutely ludicrous” that the UK took so much longer to process applications than China and other European countries. He added that “this country, in the current economic environment, cannot afford to wait years for development”.


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