Finding a solution to the runway crisis in the South East is a priority for new London mayor Sadiq Khan, according to key engineering figures.
The former transport minister, who replaced Boris Johnson at City Hall this week, was urged to drop his opposition to a Heathrow expansion and play his part in speeding up the decision over where to create additional airport capacity for the capital.
The government-commissioned, Sir Howard Davies-led Airports Commission last summer recommended construction of a third runway at Heathrow.
Airport expansion will ultimately be a central government decision, but Khan’s election means London has another influential anti-Heathrow expansion leader following the departure of long-time Estuary airport fan Boris Johnson.
MP for Tooting Khan said in his mayoral manifesto: “I will oppose a third runway at Heathrow and, if the government chooses to pursue this option, continue to call for a new runway at Gatwick as a more viable, cheaper and easier-to-build alternative.”
Patrick Flaherty, UK and Ireland chief executive at infrastructure giant Aecom, said there was a risk of the runway debate going back to its starting point.
“The damage this would do to the economy and the UK’s competitive standing would be irreversible for several generations,” he warned. “London cannot afford further political procrastination.”
Flaherty said the mayor played an important role in promoting London as a viable location to invest. “Yet a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the capital due to decades of dithering, delay and inaction over aviation capacity in the South East.”
Patricia Moore, head of UK infrastructure at construction consultancy Turner & Townsend, agreed there was an urgent need for action over runways.
“London’s new mayor faces an inbox piled high with unresolved construction and infrastructure issues,” she said. “Chief among them is the question of London’s desperately needed new runway, which remains stuck in limbo.”
The Institution of Civil Engineers called for a prompt decision.
Director general Nick Baveystock said: “We need a bold, strategic decision on the country’s future aviation hub capacity, and we need it swiftly.”
Meanwhile civils contractors said any further delay in approving extra aviation capacity was bad news for the economy as well as for the industry.
“It has been going on for a very long time,” said a spokeswoman for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association.
“Business is crying out for extra capacity. Heathrow was recommended by the Airports Commission so we back that decision.”
She added that since last summer everyone had been gearing up for a third runway at Heathrow and any change to that plan would be unhelpful.
“Long-term planning is key for contractors to help them prepare and skill up. Any dramatic change to what is expected is not good for business.”
Davies said when recommending the Heathrow expansion that strong aviation connectivity was “vital” for the UK economy.
“It promotes trade and inward investment, and is especially crucial for a global city like London,” he said.
“There is strong evidence that good transport links, and especially aviation connectivity, make an important contribution to enhancing productivity.”
He added that a new runway was needed by 2030 and that a firm decision on where to build it was “needed soon”.