FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon throws doubt on support for Heathrow expansion

The First Minister has thrown doubt over her government's support for a third runway at Heathrow.
The First Minister has thrown doubt over her government's support for a third runway at Heathrow.
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Scottish Government support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport was thrown into further doubt today after Nicola Sturgeon said it would be reviewed.

A day after the Scottish Government agreed to scrap it's proposed cut to Air Departure Tax in the light of new climate change targets, the First Minister said that her controversial support for another runway at Heathrow would now be looked at through a "new lens".

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie raised the issue at today's First Minister's Questions in Holyrood, in the light of the government's decision to "abandon" its plan to ultimately abolish the air tax.

The SNP has previously backed the expansion of London's biggest airport, and the Scottish Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the UK government in 2016 based on the creation of 16,000 Scottish jobs and the potential for Glasgow Prestwick airport to become a logistics hub for the construction of the runway. However last June SNP MPs abstained on voting for the third runway, citing climate concerns.

Today Mr Rennie asked: "Is the First Minister seriously telling us that she's only recently discovered that hundreds of extra flights are bad for climate change? Will the government now ditch its support for the third runway at Heathrow?"

Ms Sturgeon pointed to last week's Climate Change Committee report on the need to increase targets on tackling and reducing emissions and said: "We, unlike any other government so far in the UK. have accepted those recommendations, so we have to look across the range of our policies and do that in line with the increase in the scale of our ambitions."

She added that while she had made a case for the ADT cut in the past, "it no longer aligns with our ambition to reach zero net emissions by 2045. We will be required to look at all our policies, across all areas of Scottish Government responsibility through that new lens - that's the commitment we're making."

But Mr Rennie responded: "I think everyone will have noticed that the First Minister deliberately dodged my question which was about Heathrow. The time for dithering is over - a third runway with hundreds of extra flights will not help climate change."

Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Murdo Fraser later said the government's position change was "an irresponsible u-turn which could jeopardise the creation of thousands of jobs."

He added: “The SNP needs to remember why it backed this project in the first place. But because of Nicola Sturgeon’s game-playing with the environment, the economy in Scotland could lose out badly.”

During FMQs Ms Sturgeon was also asked about the the doubts over direct flights to China, as reported in today's Scotsman. Scottish Conservative Jamie Green raised the issue of Hainan Airlines which has stopped taking bookings for its Edinburgh to Beijing flights from September.

The First Minister said she was "disappointed", but believed that bookings would reopen for the summer season when the flights were busier.