- Heathrow airport upbeat despite delay and vows to put in motion “billions of pounds” of contracts “to deliver the largest privately financed infrastructure project in the country”
- Gatwick says it now has the momentum and claims it can expand at a fraction of the environmental cost
- Industry slams dithering and indecision but Infrastructure Commission chair Adonis says he understands reasoning
Heathrow airport has responded positively to news that government is to delay making a decision on whether it – or Gatwick - is to be allowed to expand for a further six months
Government today revealed that it has “accepted” the case for airport expansion in the south-east and the Airports Commission’s shortlist of options for expansion. But it avoided making a final decision on whether to allow Heathrow or Gatwick to expand by ordering further work, specifically around air quality and whether a third runway at Heathrow can be delivered within environmental limits.
The Commission had stated that expanding Heathrow would offer the biggest economic benefits for the UK. But delivering the expansion without breaching European air quality limits in the local area is a challenge.
Heathrow said it has “full confidence” in its new expansion plan and pledged to work with government to deliver Britain the hub capacity it needs within those tough environmental limits.
Such is its confidence it said it will now move into the delivery phase, and put in motion “billions of pounds” of contracts for British companies, including SMEs, “to deliver the largest privately financed infrastructure project in the country”.
The government’s move to delay the decision does appear to suggest it is siding with Davies and favours Heathrow.
But Gatwick has not conceded defeat and has responded by saying that expansion at its airport would give the country “the economic benefit it needs at dramatically lower environmental cost”.
Its chief executive Stuart Wingate even suggested that the “momentum is now behind Gatwick”.
The decision to defer was taken by the government’s Airports Sub Committee.
It said that the further work needed will be done quickly so that the timetable for delivering capacity set out by the Airports Commission can still be met.
Regarding the additional work required on environmental impacts it said it expects the airports to put forward “ambitious solutions”.
The committee also confirmed that the mechanism for delivering planning consents for airport expansion will be an Airports national policy statement (NPS), following which a scheme promoter would need to apply for a development consent order.
Business and industry reacted with dismay at the delay.
Aecom led the condemnation. Chief executive - civil infrastructure, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa Richad Robinson said business needed an unequivocal green light from government.
Instead, after “much dithering, delay and inaction”, industry has been hit with yet another deferred decision, “further numbing the pace of progress”, he said.
“Short-term political gain has taken precedence over what is right for the country. This is no way to plan critical infrastructure of national importance, added Robinson.
He cited the 2015 CBI/Aecom Infrastructure Survey that found that 50% of firms in London have been negatively impacted by the ongoing failure to tackle aviation capacity.
“Years of political procrastination have impeded many firms’ ability to plan for their future in the UK. 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.
“Without the ability to better connect to growing economies, the UK’s own growth could be constrained for generations to come. Industry looks to government to end decades of decision paralysis over a new runway in the south east so that economic growth is not further stifled,” he said.
Added Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive of theAlasdair Reisner: “This is extremely disappointing news.
“Successive governments have dodged this issue for more than 40 years. We call on the current government to commit to the implementation of the Davies Commission’s recommendations. To do so could signal a step-change in long-term infrastructure planning, to the long-term benefit of the British economy and the UK taxpayer.”
But both third official runway contender Heathrow Hub and National Infrastructure Commission chairman Lord Adonis said they understood the reasoning for the delay.
“I welcome the fact that the government has accepted the case for an extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick, as recommended by the independent Airports Commission,” said Adonis.
“It is right that the decision should be taken on the basis of the latest data on environmental impacts, and the government has committed to complete this work by the summer,” he said, stressing that the government must stick to its pledge to make a final decision by next summer.
“It is vital that a decision on a new runway is now taken within months. A decision to go ahead in 2016 will make it possible to build the runway by 2030 as recommended by the Airports Commission, but any further delay beyond next summer will jeopardise jobs and growth.”