Heathrow expansion decision delayed yet again

The Government is reported to have delayed its decision over where to build a new runway again, adding yet more time for competitors to grow their economies while the UK’s suffers.

The BBC reports the decision will be delayed until a new leader is chosen for the Conservative Party. While this is likely to be at the beginning of September, it represents at best a further delay to a decision which business and economic experts agree is well overdue, and which even anti-airport campaigners would like to see made to end decades of uncertainty.

It is a year since Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission unanimously recommended expansion at Heathrow as the best solution to the UK’s aviation capacity crisis. Airlines cannot create the new routes our economy needs because our main airport – Heathrow –  is full, and the others do not have the spare capacity to create a second hub that would make new long haul routes economic.

It is widely accepted that the UK economy is suffering – to a level of around £13bn a year according to one commentator – and that other countries are using our prevarication to move ahead. Heathrow, once the World’s busiest airport, is likely to end the next decade at the bottom of even the european league without expansion.

Heathrow, and a large number of business leaders, argue that the recent vote to leave the EU means a quick decision is even more important. Certainly our economy is likely to need all the help it can get both during and after the likely protracted, and economy and confidence damaging negotiations that will follow the referendum vote.

Sadly this further delay is all too predictable. A prevaricating government continues to prevaricate. There is now a very real risk that the two-and-a-half years, and £20m spent on the Davies Commission will be wasted. It is not certain that the leading candidates to take over as Prime Minister would support Heathrow. There is a depressing possibility that the decision will continue to be pushed away, continuing the UK’s economic self-harm, and prolonging the uncertainty for residents potentially affected.

John Holland-Kaye, the airport’s Chief Executive, said that a third runway must be a part of the Government’s Brexit plan. “If Britain wants to be confident, outward-looking and at the centre of the world’s economy then expanding Heathrow must be a key building block in the Government’s Brexit plan.

“It will allow British exporters to trade with all the growing markets of the world, strengthening Britain’s position as one of the great trading nations.  And at a time of uncertainty a £16bn privately funded infrastructure investment will create jobs and growth across the UK.

“Government can send the strongest possible signal that Britain is open for business and confident in its future by expanding Heathrow.”

An airport statement said: “Expansion of Heathrow is backed by business, trade unions, politicians and airlines as the best solution to Britain’s aviation capacity crunch.  Supporters include the CBI, FSB, chambers of commerce across the country, Unite, the GMB, 37 British airports and airlines such as easyJet, which plans to operate from an expanded Heathrow.  A large proportion of the local community also backs Heathrow.

“Recent polling by ComRes shows that two thirds of MPs think greenlighting Heathrow expansion will strengthen Britain’s economy.  MPs also ranked Heathrow expansion as the top infrastructure project for spreading growth across Britain – ahead of projects like HS2, HS3 and notably with Gatwick expansion last (Heathrow 41% vs Gatwick 3%).”

Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive at London First, responded to the news saying: “Clearly this is disappointing. Nothing can be more vital for a trading island than sufficient air links, especially after the referendum result. There should be no question that whoever takes over from David Cameron must keep the government’s commitment to open a new runway by 2030.”

Gavin Hayes, Director of Let Britain Fly, said: “One of the first tests of leadership for the next prime minister, and the clearest way of demonstrating we have strong government again, is to make this long overdue decision. There is too much economic turmoil right now to delay this any longer.”

Over 170 of Britain’s business leaders have urged the Government to inject growth into the British economy by progressing Heathrow’s expansion plans.

Writing to the Transport Secretary on the first anniversary of the Airports Commission’s clear recommendation for an expanded Heathrow,  the signatories highlighted the opportunity the Government has to unleash a new Victorian Age of infrastructure.

They say that, in a time of economic uncertainty, Britain needs ready-to-go infrastructure projects that will enhance  growth and reassure investor confidence, and that Heathrow expansion will help restore that confidence and inject £16bn of private sector money into a massive infrastructure project, creating jobs, securing growth across the UK and sending a clear message to the world that Britain is open for business.

The letter was signed by Sir Martin Sorrell and signatories ranging from FTSE chiefs and Britain’s key business and trade associations, to leading global brands and SMEs spanning the whole of the UK.

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