The Business World is disappointed at the Government’s delayed decision on expanding Heathrow, while local politicians generally use it as an opportunity to lobby against expansion.
West London Business, the body representing organisations that make up the sub-region’s £50 billion economy, has expressed its frustration at the Government’s decision to delay its verdict on the third runway until summer 2016. West London Business says it fully supports the expansion of Heathrow “within tough environmental limits”.
Andrew Dakers, Chief Executive of West London Business, said: “We are frustrated that the Government has put off its decision about the expansion of Heathrow until next summer. Expansion of Heathrow is vital for the wellbeing of West London’s £50 billion economy, as well as the economic growth of the UK as a whole.
“We fully appreciate that the government needs to give careful consideration to the Heathrow expansion decision and environmental considerations in particular, but construction of the third runway is the only logical conclusion. The Davies Commission unanimously recommended Heathrow expansion and we believe that the Government needs to act on this recommendation without delay.”
London First expressed its anger, branding the delay ‘pathetic’ and ‘tragic’. Chief executive, Baroness Jo Valentine, said on Sky News, Channel 4 News and BBC London Radio that: “the decision won’t get any easier for the Prime Minister if he delays further. Sometimes, politicians just have to take the hard decisions as part of governing and stop procrastinating.”
Gavin Hayes, director of campaign group Let Britain Fly, said on LBC Radio and BBC Radio 4: “The business community will be rightly angered by the latest delay in a final decision to implement the Airports Commission’s recommendation to expand Heathrow.
“Instead of showing strong leadership the Prime Minister has yet again decided to put short-term political interests before the long-term national interest and kicked the can down the road for another six months. This latest fudge is all about political expediency not about doing what is right for our economy.
“Having already spent three years and millions of pounds of tax-payer money looking at the issue in a Commission, including extensive analysis on the economic and environmental impact, this further delay is unacceptable.
“Such indecision risks undermining our economic competiveness and our global competitors will be rubbing their hands in glee. And the message this sends out to investors is quite frankly a disaster.
“The government claim they have a ‘long-term economic plan’ but seem incapable of making the big strategic decisions that will deliver future jobs and growth.”
Commenting on the latest delay to a government decision on a new runway in the South East, John Longworth, British Chambers of Commerce Director General, said: “Businesses will see this as a gutless move by a government that promised a clear decision on a new runway by the end of the year.
“Business will question whether ministers are delaying critical upgrades to our national infrastructure for legitimate reasons, or to satisfy short-term political interests.
“Businesses across Britain will be asking whether there is any point in setting up an Airports Commission – or the recently-announced National Infrastructure Commission – if political considerations are always going to trump big decisions in the national interest.
“The Commission has said that a new runway should be built at Heathrow, and quickly. Expansion at other airports is needed too. Ministers need to stop prevaricating and get on with doing what the country sorely needs.”
Colin Stanbridge, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive said: “LCCI has long advocated for both Heathrow and Gatwick to be given the go-ahead to expand as a means of futureproofing the UK economy. However, at the moment it appears that we have paralysis from the government in making any decision at all.
“I fear that the government’s current approach on airports is an unnecessary ‘mess’ that perhaps owes more to political calculations related to next year’s mayoral contest. However, those calculations could unintentionally ground the UK economy by eroding confidence and generating confusion among potential infrastructure investors.”
Terry Scuoler, Chief Executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “By avoiding a tough decision, despite a well-evidenced shortlist, the government has again dithered and avoided the issue. Industry is fed-up and dismayed by the continued excuses and political dilly dallying.
“The indecision has handed an early Christmas gift to our competitors who recognise the vital importance to their economies of having the room and flexibility to grow air connections to major international gateways.
“It defies belief that having set a target to double our exports, the government is refusing to approve the extra air capacity to help it. We currently have enough uncertainty to deal with over our future in Europe and, other economic headwinds. This sends another very damaging signal to inward investors who will question exactly how far the UK really is ‘open for business’.
“This decision also raises questions around the certainty that can be attached to any future output of the National Infrastructure Commission. Manufacturers will be looking to the government to ensure greater rigour in future infrastructure policy analysis.”
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General described the delay as “deeply disappointing”.
She said: “We urgently need to increase our runway capacity to spur trade growth, investment and job creation. Just eight new routes to emerging markets could boost our exports by up to £1 billion a year.
“If we don’t have a new runway up and running by 2030 the cost to the UK will be as much as £5.3 billion a year in lost trade to the BRICs alone.
“It is of course essential that environmental conditions are met. But the Airports Commission spent three years analysing impartial evidence, at a cost of £20 million, and the National Infrastructure Commission was set up just two months ago to take an evidence-based approach to our needs. We cannot fall into the habit of simply commissioning new evidence, instead of the Government taking the tough decisions needed at the end of the process.”
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, used the opportunity to promote his Estuary Airport idea, which was discarded by Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission at an early stage, as it would cost too much and have insurmountable environmental issues. He said that the the obstacles in the path of expanding Heathrow “are insurmountable”, and that a third runway “can never be built there”.
He said: “The wheels are falling off the Heathrow fuselage and I think that, now the Government has hit the pause button, they will begin to understand with ever greater clarity that, due to the environmental impacts, the legal obstacles and the cost to the public purse, this bird will never fly”.
He agrees that a delay is not good, saying: “Delay is not the answer. Britain’s European rivals continue to forge ahead with the construction of multi-runway mega-airports.”
Guy Senior, Wandsworth Council’s executive member for aviation said:” Clearly Mr Cameron realises the airports commission is pointing him down a legal cul-de-sac. It’s just a great shame he didn’t rule out this futile scheme altogether.”
Ray Puddifoot, Hillingdon Council leader, said: “The government should rule out Heathrow expansion now, not in six months time. No ifs, no buts. It has been proven yet again that it cannot be accommodated without resulting in unacceptable levels of noise, air pollution and destroying local communities. It’s deeply disappointing that our residents have to live with more uncertainly and distress while this futile debate rumbles on.”
Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, said: “It is wrong to limit the deferred decision to the narrow issue of air quality, troubling though that is, and impossible though Heathrow will find it to comply. Issues of noise, competition, economics, transport and security remain decisively stacked against Heathrow and should not be left out of the final reckoning.”
Stephen Cowan, Hammersmith & Fulham Council leader, said: “The third runway should be ruled out immediately. It would bring misery to residents in Hammersmith & Fulham with unacceptable noise, traffic and pollution. The airports commission has now lost all credibility and it’s time for the Government to say that the third runway is not a flyer.”
Hounslow Council struck a different tone – Cllr Steve Curran, Leader, said: “Whilst we welcome more research into the impact of expanding Heathrow on the environment and the local infrastructure, we urge the government to complete any further studies and consultation and come to a final decision as quickly as possible. The uncertainty has gone on long enough and our residents and businesses want to know what is going to happen.
“We have a positive and productive relationship with Heathrow, which has resulted in many improvements for local people – both in terms of noise protection and employment opportunities. Whatever the outcome of this next stage, we hope this will continue. “
Slough Borough Council takes the opposite view to most local councils, with Councillor Rob Anderson, leader of Slough Borough Council, expressing disappointment, saying “The case for expansion at Heathrow is strong and any further delay risks breeding uncertainty, which could damage the economy both in Slough and further afield.
“We urge the government to conduct their additional research as soon as possible to enable a swift decision in 2016.”
The council announced its support for Heathrow expansion in February 2015. Ruth Bagley, chief executive of Slough Borough Council, said in July: “Slough has a strong economy largely because of its accessibility to global markets via Heathrow.
“Our proximity to the airport is one of the main reasons why we have the highest concentration of European and UK headquarters in the country and why our prospects for inward investment are so positive.
“And Heathrow is the source of more 6,000 jobs for Slough residents on the airport and its support businesses. We estimate a further 12,000-plus Slough residents have jobs in local businesses as a direct result of our proximity to Heathrow.”
Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate said: “Even Heathrow’s most vocal supporters must now realise a third runway at Heathrow will never take off as the environmental hurdles are just too high. If they want Britain to have the benefits of expansion and competition they should now look to Gatwick.
“Expansion has been in a holding pattern for decades. Momentum is now behind Gatwick as it becomes ever clearer that it is the obvious solution. We will continue to work closely with Government to take forward our plan which is legal, affordable, and can actually deliver for Britain.”