London drains life from UK - Cable

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Vince Cable has renewed his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow Vince Cable has renewed his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow

Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned London is "becoming a giant suction machine draining the life" from the rest of the country as he renewed his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow.

The senior Liberal Democrat said the issue of regional capacity had not been sufficiently addressed by a Whitehall-commissioned review of airport provision.

He stood by his determination that expansion of the country's biggest airport - the flightpath of which crosses his Twickenham constituency - "is not going to happen".

A new or extended runway at Heathrow and a second at Gatwick were the three preferred options to deal with growing demand for flights put forward by a commission led by Sir Howard Davies.

But it ruled out pre-2030 expansion at Stansted in Essex or Birmingham.

Mr Cable said more use should be made of regional airports.

"One of the big problems we have at the moment - which I don't think the report sufficiently addresses - is that London is becoming a kind of giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country, and I think more balance in that respect would be helpful," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

He said he believed a third runway - which was ruled out for this parliament by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition - was "very unlikely".

But that did not represent any watering down of his previous stance that it was "not going to happen", he insisted.

"I still hold that view," he said.

"I was making a firm declaration of my own view and my own position and indeed my own party's position. That hasn't changed.

"What this report is doing - and it is actually a very well-argued report as you would expect from Howard Davies - is trying to reconcile two different things: one is to try to ensure that from the economic interests of the country we have more connections to the big emerging markets; on the other hand we have hundreds of thousands of people in London living under the flightpath with very serious issues of noise, and all the parties have made clear we can't make that problem worse."

Asked if it was a matter over which he would resign from the Government, he said: "No. There are a lot of issues I feel very strongly about and argue ferociously about in the coalition but I don't rush around resigning every month."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said Mr Cable was "talking rubbish".

"What a stupefying and ridiculous assertion to make, and this from the Cabinet minister in charge of supposedly growing the UK economy," he said.

"He's talking rubbish. I'm amazed and I fundamentally disagree. In fact, the opposite is true. London now contributes more to UK GDP than ever before.

"This city is the motor of the UK economy, and the gateway to recovery across the country, attracting record levels of overseas investment, all of which is helping, not hindering, recovery.

"Far from being a drain on the the rest of the UK, London is helping to drive job creation and growth outside the capital as well as in it.

"He needs to stop blaming London and start believing in it. His constituents in west London will be flabbergasted. Does he seriously think curbs on London's ability to compete globally will help the rest of the UK?"

At a Westminster media briefing later, David Cameron's official spokesman did not seek to distance the Prime Minister from the Business Secretary's remarks.

Instead, he highlighted the PM's earlier comments about the need to rebalance the UK's economy towards areas outside London and the South-East.

"I think the Prime Minister has been clear about the importance of rebalancing the economy," said the spokesman.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg explained his party's opposition to a third runway at Heathrow, telling LBC 97.3 radio: "The reason myself and my party have opposed this... is not for no reason at all, it's for the environmental reasons.

"We have to somehow square the circle of making sure that we have aviation capacity to keep ourselves a competitive open economy but not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and turn our backs on our environmental obligations or make noise and air pollution worse than it already is for many, many hundreds and thousands of Londoners.

"I do not want to see aviation expansion take place in the south-east of England in a way that would make air or noise pollution worse than it currently is or would breach our climate change targets."

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