City leaders and business groups are demanding firm promises from politicians to expand airport capacity in London, amid fears it will be kicked into the long grass yet again.
Aware that they could be in for a major bust up with the Liberal Democrats, whose members ruled out any airport expansion at their party conference earlier this year, the City is calling for clarity on the issue.
Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission yesterday put forward a shortlist of three possible plans for a public consultation: a third Heathrow runway; an elongated Heathrow runway; and a second Gatwick runway.
The decision has been dogged for years by political delays and rows, and the commission will come to a final decision just after next May’s election, creating political uncertainty. As a result, business leaders are terrified that more political wrangling and campaigns from local residents before the election will stamp out any hope of airport expansion, as MPs seek to win votes.
Writing in City A.M. today, Canary Wharf Group boss Sir George Iacobescu asks all three parties to make the development of at least one airport a firm manifesto pledge.
The demands could set the City on a collision course with the Liberal Democrats, but both Labour and the Conservatives have indicated they will look carefully at the proposals. A Lib Dem spokesman pointed out that leader Nick Clegg has criticised the party’s position.
“It’s fantastic that ministers and shadow ministers are at long last starting to wake up to the need to build vital new runways in order to boost future jobs and growth,” writes Iacobescu, who is a senior figure at campaign group Let Britain Fly.
“However, in order to maintain the trust and confidence of the business community and demonstrate a clear willingness to follow-through on these commitments, we would now like the main parties to go a step further by offering a manifesto commitment, promising to make a speedy decision on airports expansion following the election, guided by the commission’s final recommendation.”
The London Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) want both airports to get bigger, to “future-proof the UK economy”. LCCI’ chief Colin Stanbridge said: “Any new runway, anywhere, will take around a decade to deliver. In the meantime, we must consider options to dramatically increase the capacity of the London airports system.
“One important short-term measure ministers could enact at the stroke-of-a-pen that could boost the UK economy by up to £1bn a year would be through making greater use of early morning arrivals at Heathrow.”
The commission has ruled out other options, including an expansion of Birmingham’s airport and a new airport in the Thames Estuary, so-called Boris Island.
Davies also found the Heathrow and Gatwick proposals are likely to cost as much as £3.4bn more than the plans submitted initially suggested.
The plan for a new Heathrow runway could cost £18.6bn, compared with the £15.6bn estimated by the airport. The cheapest option is a second Gatwick runway, costing £9.3bn, almost £2bn more than the original plan, the commission warned.