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South-East airport expansion delayed

Words: Laura Edgar

A decision on whether to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport has been delayed until summer 2016.

The announcement, which was made yesterday, follows a report released in July this year by the Airport Commission concluding that Heathrow Airport is the best of option for expanding runway capacity, rather than Gatwick Airport or a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

A decision had been promised by the end of the year, but transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that although the case for aviation expansion is clear, “it’s vitally important we get the decision right so that it will benefit generations to come”.

McLoughlin said the government would now undertake more work on the environmental impacts of airport expansion, including air quality, noise and carbon.

“We must develop the best possible package of measure to mitigate the impacts on local people. We will continue work on all the shortlisted locations, so the timetable for more capacity by Sir Howard Davies (chair of the Airports Commission) is met,” he explained.

Bad for business


The delay has left business groups angry.

John Longworth, British Chamber of Commerce director general, said businesses would see the delay over a decision as a “gutless” move by the government.

“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.”

Longworth added that ministers need to stop “prevaricating” and get on with doing what the country “sorely needs”.

No way to plan “critical infrastructure”


Richard Robinson, chief executive of civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, at management services provider AECOM, agreed that short-term political gain has “taken precedence” over what is right for the country.

This, he said, “is no way to plan critical infrastructure of national importance”. Years of “political procrastination” have impeded many firms’ ability to plan for their future.

“The country is already lagging behind global rivals with nearly double our aviation capacity and far more nimble mechanisms for delivering new infrastructure. Further postponement could cripple the country’s competitiveness.”

A decision will be a relief


Matthew Samuel-Camps, partner and chief executive office at property consultant Vail Williams, also highlighted the government’s procrastination, which he said must stop.

“This uncertainty is making it almost impossible for businesses at both Heathrow and Gatwick to plan ahead.

“Whichever location is eventually chosen to expand, for many companies it will come as a relief simply because at long last they will be able to start planning for the future with more confidence.”

Samuel-Carps described the situation as “frustrating” because the opportunities that would be unlocked are huge, whatever the result.

While the decision is important, he added: “This delay now runs the risk of harming businesses. It must be settled soon”.

Delay shows Heathrow difficulties


HACAN, a campaigning organisation that provides a voice for those under Heathrow’s flightpaths, said the delay shows just how difficult it will be to build a third runway at the airport.

Problems including demolishing homes and deteriorating air quality will not go away, however long the final decision is delayed, said the campaign group.

“The government should face up to the reality that a third runway is unlikely ever to see the light of day. Although there are party political reasons for this delay, these should not obscure the fact that the real problem with a third runway is its impact on the area, London, and its people.”

Growth at Gatwick, inertia at Heathrow


Stewart Wingate, CEO at Gatwick Airport, said the decision is a “defining” moment in the expansion debate.

“There is now a clear choice facing Britain: growth with Gatwick or inertia at Heathrow with an illegal scheme that has failed time and time again.”

Wingate stressed that the decision is about balancing the economy and the environment. Expanding Gatwick, he said, would give the country the economic benefits it needs at a “dramatically lower environmental cost”.

Heathrow full of confidence


In a statement Heathrow Airport said it has “full confidence” in its expansion plan and pledged to work with the government to deliver Britain the hub capacity it needs within “tough environmental limits”.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive at Heathrow Airport, said: “We have support locally and nationally from politicians, business, trade unions and the aviation industry for Heathrow expansion. Let’s get on and build a better future for Britain.”

Image credit | Heathrow Airport