Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, has defied the Labour leader Ed Miliband and called for a third runway at Heathrow to beapproved. Britain's ability to attract foreign investment is being undermined by a lack of capacity at its biggest airport, Mr Darling warned.
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, he said: "You can't just ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Everybody who flies wants a runway, and nobody who lives near one wants one at all. There is a consensus we actually do need more capacity."
The coalition government is split on the issue: George Osborne is keen to reconsider opposition to a third runway. Yesterday, Grant Shapps, the housing minister, told The Daily Telegraph he backed the Chancellor's position "to the hilt".
Last October, Labour abandoned its support for expansion, when Mr Miliband backed Maria Eagle, the shadow Transport Secretary, who said "the third runway at Heathrow is now off the agenda because of the local environmental impact".
But Mr Darling rejected the idea of a new airport in the Thames estuary, which he said would attract high landing charges and damage business in west London.
Additional capacity was needed at Heathrow to bolster growth, Mr Darling said, as he took aim at George Osborne's stewardship of the economy. "An impression is beginning to emerge that both the Chancellor and the Bank of England have given up," he said.
Change of heart on airport expansion
December 2003 Alistair Darling backs a third runway "to meet the pressures we know we'll face as a result of a growing economy".
June 2008 David Cameron burnishes green credentials to oppose third runway, declaring: "We are not going to drop the environmental agenda in an economic downturn."
January 2009 Government approves plans.
May 2010 Conservative manifesto pledges to "stop the third runway".
October 2011 Justine Greening, MP for Putney who opposes expansion at Heathrow, appointed Transport Secretary.
March 2012 IoS reveals George Osborne wants a third runway "back on the table".