Leading City figures – including the boss of a FTSE 100 company – are calling on the UK’s big political parties to make a quick decision on boosting London’s airport capacity.
Nearly two-and-a-half years after the government set up a commission to look into the need for more runway space in the south east, politicians are being urged to use their manifestos to promise immediate action after the general election.
The commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, closes its latest consultation period this morning. Aberdeen Asset Management boss Martin Gilbert writes in City A.M. today, arguing that London is being left behind as cities such as Istanbul, Amsterdam and Dubai eclipse our runway capacity.
The Institute of Directors (IoD) also complains that “many years have been lost to the political expediency of kicking the decision down the road.” Its members would prefer expansion at Heathrow, with 61 per cent preferring the west London site to get the nod, while 39 per cent would rather see another runway built at Gatwick, south of London.
City MP Mark Field expressed dismay yesterday at the time it has taken to decide which airport will be allowed to expand capacity. Many people in the City believe the Davies commission was designed “to push the decision into the long grass”, Field said.
Yet a Conservative spokesperson said: “It is absolutely right for the commission to have the time and space to do a proper piece of work.”
A Labour spokesperson said the party had originally wanted the final report to be published before the general election, “but while the commission is still deliberating, we will not rule in or out any runway options.”
While top UK bosses appear to be leaning towards Heathrow, according to the IoD’s survey, favouring the west London airport could be troublesome for the Conservative party given the opposition of several of its MPs.
Tory MP for Richmond Zac Goldsmith, who is against Heathrow expansion, said yesterday: “If my party is in government and gives a green light for expansion, I would honour my promise to trigger a by-election.”
The Liberal Democrats remain opposed to airport expansion.
Some business groups want to see expansion of both Gatwick and Heathrow. Colin Stanbridge of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry said: “To consider expanding just one airport at the conclusion of this lengthy process is woefully short-termist and ignoring a major opportunity to future-proof the UK’s economy.”
A spokesman for Gatwick said that “in an ideal world” the parties would make a commitment ahead of the election, while Heathrow’s spokesman said: “What we want is for all the parties to support the Airport Commission’s process.”