Transport secretary Grant Shapps has today been accused of fighting plans by his own Government to build homes on little-used airfields.
Mr Shapps, a keen pilot said to own his own £100,000 aircraft, is said to have used a lobbying body to protect airfields from development.
He disputes claims made in the Sunday Times today that he ‘set-up and diverted public money’ to a new team within the Civil Aviation Authority designed to lobby against planning developments that infringe on airstrips.
The newspaper said objections by the Airfield Advisory Team had helped to frustrate Homes England’s plans for 3,000 homes at Chalgrove, an airfield in south Oxfordshire, while also opposing ambitions to build a battery gigafactory on Coventry airport.
But Department for Transport (DfT) officials said the team was not a lobbying body and instead provided ‘support to general aviation on a range of matters affecting their operations’.
The Sunday Times reported that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ‘set-up and diverted public money’ to a new team within the Civil Aviation Authority which is designed to lobby against planning developments that infringe on airstrips
He is reported to own a £100,000 Piper Saratoga aircraft similar to the one above
A Government source said: ‘This body is not a lobbying body, it is an advisory body to help general aviation with problems they may have, which may be planning or anything else.
‘It is not essentially anti-housing – indeed, housing can sometimes be a solution for financing an airfield.
‘As Secretary of State for Transport, it is his function to protect general aviation and we’ve seen a decline in the number of airfields across the country.’
A DfT spokeswoman said: ‘It is right that the Transport Secretary works to promote all aspects of the department’s brief including the general aviation sector, which contributes £4 billion to the economy and supports 40,000 jobs, especially as we focus on our recovery from the pandemic and on building a diverse workforce that’s fit for the future.’
The Sunday Times article also suggested Mr Shapps’ flying hobby had ‘undermined’ Government efforts to repatriate Britons after the collapse of travel agent Thomas Cook in 2019, and had taken up ‘valuable time’ while the DfT dealt with post-Brexit and coronavirus travel disruption.
But a source said claims were ‘utterly bogus and demonstrably false’.
Mr Shapps is believed to have held a pilot’s licence since 1995, before he entered Parliament.
In 2017, while out of Government, he was elected chairman of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Aviation. On taking on the role he said: ‘Grant Shapps said: “The All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation seeks to be the strong voice in Parliament that general aviation needs to help promote jobs and growth in this country.
‘We will seek to do this by inspiring young and old to look to the skies to help develop the kind of high-tech jobs and skills we all want to see. I am delighted to have been elected chair and look forward to championing such an important part of our economy.’
He resigned the role on becoming Secretary of State for Transport in place of Chris Grayling in 2019.