Lib Dems may be preparing for a u-turn on airport expansion

The Lib Dems may be set to drop opposition to expanding Gatwick airport. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/Press Association Images

"We remain opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick ..."

The position in the Liberal Democrats Pre-Manifesto 2014 is clear: no new runways in the South-East.

But today, with the support of the party leadership, the Lib Dems may drop their opposition to a new runway at Gatwick airport.

The issue of airport capacity is currently being examined by the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies.

Sir Howard has already ruled out a Thames Estuary airport, otherwise known as Boris Island.

There are three proposals shortlisted: a second runway at Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow, or extending one of the existing runways at Heathrow so planes could both take-off and land at the same time.

The issue is highly contentious. The last Labour government approved a new runway at Heathrow but it was scrapped by the coalition in 2010 (both the Conservatives and Lib Dems had opposed it during the election campaign).

The Lib Dems are currently debating whether to exempt Gatwick airport from their current ban.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, is arguing that airport expansion may not lead to higher carbon emissions - given new technology and more efficient planes.

But several delegates here have argued that too much of the investment and jobs is concentrated in the South-East.

Other argued the party should stick with the promises they made to those who live under the flight path.

"We will lose votes right across the country, north and south," said one delegate predicting the abuse Lib Dem activists would get on the doorstep if they approved the expansion of Gatwick.