Business leaders have slammed the government’s decision to rule out the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport as “negligent”.
The comments came as transport lobbyists published a hard-hitting report on deteriorating transport links in London and across the UK.
The report, compiled by a commission set up by business lobby group London First, says that decades of short term thinking and unstable transport planning has left the UK with no credible aviation policy, expensive railways and congested roads.
Shift in focus
Commission members told NCE that they were concerned that the recent shift in political focus toward a Thames Estuary airport — accepted by government to be at least two or three decades away from being a reality — distracted attention from dealing with more immediate problems facing the country in the next 10 to 15 years.
“There seems to be a growing consensus about the need for a [suitable] hub for the future,” said commissioner and consultant Aecom global director John Vincent. “But [the debate] is weighted towards one option that is way into the future. The imperative is to get an expanded Heathrow onto the agenda.”
The report, London, Britain and the World: Transport Links for Economic Growth, states that the “consequences of inaction” are being felt now in the guise of unacceptable transport infrastructure quality, diminishing access and poor resilience which represent an “immediate threat” to London’s ability to compete globally for investment and talent and extend benefits to the rest of the UK.
“London’s competitive position will be eroded”
John Vincent, Aecom
The commission makes several recommendations for road, rail and air transport improvements (see box). But it emphases that aviation poses the most immediate and large scale challenge.
Last week transport experts told NCE that plans for a third runway at Heathrow should be revisited because it would be funded by operator BAA.
But the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are opposed to expansion at Heathrow.
Report commissioner and cost consultant CBRE’s executive director Peter Damesick said that this was not an insurmountable challenge. Damesick is also CBRE’s chief economist for Europe the Middle East and Asia.
“The danger is that unfortunately the coalition government has put itself in the difficult position of ruling out [a third runway], which makes it difficult to go back on,” he said. “But that’s not to say it won’t do that.”
The report’s authors stressed that action is needed quickly, with other European airports such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt already increasing their links with emerging nations.
Specifically London has no direct air links to Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Indonesia and the Philippines. Damesick said the UK cannot afford to wait for a hub airport in the Thames Estuary.
“There are many, many obstacles to overcome — and even if they are overcome it could be 20 or 30 years to build it,” said Vincent. “In that time London’s competitive position will be eroded.”
Finding the funds for an estuary scheme could also be problematic, said Vincent, with the government likely to be committed to High Speed 2 (HS2). “Crossrail is a huge spend and follows the Olympics [spend] and then there is HS2 to pay for,” he said.
“Could one contemplate another multi-billion pound spend at the same time as HS2? Can we afford to do two major schemes at the same time? It would be a brave man to say the economy would be sufficiently recovered by then.”
The Highways Agency should accelerate its programme of hard shoulder running
The Agency should be supported by a clearer, longer term policy framework from government with five year funding cycles
The government should work with local authorities to develop and consult on a variable road user charging system for urban areas and the worst congested sections of strategic highway network
Incremental upgrades are needed to grow rail capacity in London and the south east
Heathrow airport must be granted permission to allow aircraft to take off and land concurrently on both runways in exchange for enforceable measures to mitigate and compensate for additional noise
Ministers must review national aviation policy and include option to expand Heathrow with a third runway
Government must consider how further capacity in London and the south east should be provided in the next 15 years
Ministers must review aviation policy to include option of a new hub airport