Prior to the 2010 general election, David Cameron clearly stated his position on London airport expansion: ‘no ifs, no buts’ there would be no expansion of Heathrow. Now, more than half a decade later, the only decision that has been made has been to delay the decision making.
Amid much controversy concerning delaying the publication until after the 2015 general election, the independent report into the expansion of London’s airport capacity was published by the Airport Commission in July 2015 and clearly ruled in favour of Heathrow. At this point, Downing Street said that it would not be making ‘a snap judgement’ and the decision would be made in the autumn. As we approach the shortest day of the year, I think it’s fair to say that autumn has officially come and gone and we have now been met with the news that the decision will be delayed for a further six months.
There is much debate surrounding the reasons for this delay: the government claim they need more time to consider the environmental impacts of airport expansion, while critics suggest that the delay simply moves the decision until after the London Mayoral elections, in which the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith has made his strong opposition to the expansion of Heathrow very clear.
Whatever the reason, these continued delays will have a very real effect on the UK’s future economic growth prospects. The Airport Commission Report outlined the need for expansion to airport capacity in the south: ‘Heathrow has been effectively full for many years, and Gatwick is operating at more than 85% capacity and is completely full at peak times…In a complex and competitive global environment it would be short-sighted and perilous to place the UK’s world-leading connectivity at risk by failing to address these constraints. There is a clear need for one net additional runway in London and the South East by 2030.’
The government’s delay in making a decision has been criticised by various business leaders: Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director General of the CBI, called the delays a ‘failure of leadership’ and claimed that there would be ‘a potential £5bn lost exports by 2030 if we don’t act’. John Longworth, Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce, claimed that ‘further delays would undermine the government’s claim that it is serious about Britain punching above its weight on the global stage’; and Chris Richards, a senior policy adviser at the EEF, said that the ‘delay and dithering is bad for business’.
Government should respond quickly to the position set out by the Airport Commission, for the sake of the UK’s future economic growth and position on the global stage. The debate on the extension of airport capacity in the south has been ongoing for almost half a century: Paul Buchanan‘s grandfather, Sir Colin Buchanan, sat on the Roskill Commission from 1968-71 and then proposed Maplin airport which was approved by government, and subsequently dropped in 1974. No definitive decision on London’s airport capacity has been made since then and it now looks like that silence could continue for some time longer.
Lucy Dean is a Senior Consultant at Volterra
Inserted Image: London First