The Government has postponed its decision on the expansion of Heathrow airport until the New Year, it was announced today.
A verdict on a third runway, sixth terminal and the introduction of mixed mode take off and landings was expected in the next few weeks.
But Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who has also ruled out giving MPs a say on the decision, said today that he would not make an announcement until January 2009.
In a Parliamentary written statement, he said: The 2003 White Paper made clear that given the economic benefits to the UK, the Government supports the further development of Heathrow by adding a third runway and exploring the scope for making greater use of the existing runways, subject to meeting strict local conditions on air quality, noise and improving public transport access."
He added that the then transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, had said in July this year that following a first consultation period there would be a further consultative exercise as part of delivering a full equalities impact assessment.
Mr Hoon said Ms Kelly had said a decision was planned by the end of the year, following the close of the further consultation exercise on November 9.
Mr Hoon added: "Since being appointed Secretary of State for Transport in October, I have had the opportunity to hear views from across the House in debate on November 5 and to begin considering the evidence, including the 70,000 responses to the consultation.
"I share the desire on all sides of the House, and among the wider public for this issue to be resolved. I am equally aware of the importance of reaching the right conclusion.
"I know that there are strong views across a range of interests. I will ensure that I give proper consideration to the evidence before me and will therefore take more time before making an announcement to the House, in January 2009."
In a statement, a spokesman for airport operator BAA added: "Given the complexity of the issues involved, we understand why the Government is taking further time to consider these matters.
"We welcome the fact that the Government has now committed to making a decision in January on how we keep Heathrow and this country globally competitive by maintaining our direct access to the world."
John Stewart, chairman of the campaign group HACAN, said it appeared the Government was having a 're-think'.
But he added: "We do need to get a clear decision in January. The continuing uncertainty is not just fair on the people who stand to lose their homes if expansion went ahead."
And Mary Macleod, Tory parliamentary hopeful for Brentford and Isleworth, added: "The Government now has a chance to review the evidence in detail and understand the impact of what a third runway and mixed mode means to local people.
"I would like to invite Geoff Hoon to visit Chiswick, Brentford, Isleworth, Osterley and Hounslow to see for himself, the current noise levels of aircraft even before expansion. Further increase in noise, pollution and congestion would just be unacceptable."