Politicians must act quickly to implement the recommendations of the Airports Commission or risk being accused of dithering, business groups said yesterday, hitting out at reports that it could be early 2016 before any government action is taken.
The commission, overseen by ex-City watchdog Sir Howard Davies, has been looking into the state of air travel provisions in the south east of England for three years. Since December 2013 the process has been a two horse race, with proposals from Heathrow and Gatwick the only shortlisted options.
The Davies Commission is to publish its findings by the end of this month, however it has emerged that the government may defer any action on the final report until the end of this year or possibly the beginning of the next.
The Institute of Directors’ senior infrastructure adviser Dan Lewis cautioned against delaying a full response beyond December, and said it would “bring accusations of dithering and fudging”. “Each delay pushes further into the next parliament, the point at which the first shovel can go into the ground,” he said.
While he conceded that a delay would not be massively surprising given that the commission will produce an “absolute doorstopper of a report”. Lewis added: “Every delay comes at an irreversible cost to business in lost connectivity and commercial opportunity.”
David Leam, director of infrastructure policy at business advocacy group London First, warned that the government needs to avoid opening the gates to vocal opponents of whichever decision is reached. He said politicians risk creating a “vacuum” around the issue if they do not take a firm line at an early stage.
“What the government needs to do is put out clearly what happens next,” Leam told City A.M.. “They have had a lot of time to think about this. It’s inconceivable that they haven’t been in discussions with the commission along the way.”
Sean McKee, director of policy and public affairs at London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, picked up on this point, and said politicians have been “well aware” that the Airport Commission’s final report is looming. “The time for grand-standing, positioning and dithering has long passed,” he added.
The Department for Transport declined to comment on the timing of the next step, but a spokesperson said: “We are determined to make progress on this vital issue but we need to carefully consider the Airports Commission’s full body of work before setting out next steps.”
The Airports Commission is set up by the government after years of wrangling over a proposed third runway at Heathrow. Former Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies is appointed to lead the decision-making process
The deadline for submissions from airports in the south east of England. Proposals made include a second runway at Stansted and Boris Johnson’s favoured suggestion of an island airport in the Thames Estuary
The Thames Estuary idea is shot down, provoking a furious response from Johnson. The London Mayor (pictured) accused the Commission of being short-sighted
Proposals from Gatwick and Heathrow are shortlisted as the final options that Davies will consider, with submissions from several other airports, including Birmingham, Bristol and Exeter failing to make the cut
Heathrow submits revised proposal to the Commission, which would see a new runway sited further south and west in an effort to reduce noise impact
Commission opens consultation on shortlisted options to the publication, with a closing date of February 2015
The Commission’s final report on its findings will be published at the end of this month