Airports and houses: Both stuck in the mud

Julian Harris
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The Debate Over The Third Runway At Heathrow Airport Continues
Sir Howard Davies published his commission’s report into airport expansion last year (Source: Getty)

It was a Wednesday, like today, nearly a year ago – 1 July 2015. Greece was gearing up for an historic referendum that many predicted would see the debt-riddled country crash out of the Eurozone. Andy Burnham was still favourite to become Labour’s new leader. Rumours were beginning to circulate that Leicester City would appoint Italian veteran Claudio Ranieri as its new manager. Infamously, the decision was widely criticised and even mocked.

It was also the day that Sir Howard Davies published his commission’s long-awaited report into airport expansion, which unanimously backed a third runway at Heathrow. Business groups welcomed the clarity and urged the government to move forward with a decision.

Read more: Business group pushes for Heathrow decision as Gatwick pledge concessions

But any progress was delayed first by the summer break, and then conference season – and then we waited even longer, assured of a response by the end of the year. Come December, that promise proved hollow, as the decision was kicked back to this summer. Naturally, the referendum has also kept it on the backburner. So will we see any real progress before MPs depart again for their summer hols? Not likely.

“The government is continuing to consider all three shortlisted options and the [Davies] Commission’s evidence,” a spokesperson said yesterday. The latest stage in this drawn-out examination will “conclude by the summer”, we are assured. If we get a verdict (which MPs must then fight over), it will be in the autumn at the earliest – but don’t hold your breath.

Read more: Business groups rally on government after Heathrow accepts conditions

Another unwelcome example of Britain’s sclerotic approach to infrastructure was provided by Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, James Murray, yesterday. During his campaign for City Hall, Khan said that 50,000 new homes should be built in London per year. But his supposed determination to hit the target has already been downgraded to a distant aspiration. Murray revealed that nothing will be done until more consultations are carried out, which could take another couple of years. The 50,000 figure is now merely something “which we want to move [towards] over the coming years.” Khan has a worringly managerialistic attitude to construction in the capital. He has already bemoaned the “uncontrolled” conversion of some offices into flats, and pledged that any future conversions will have to be “carefully managed”.

London may be associated with free markets in certain areas of life, but when it comes to creaking infrastructure, it remains very much in the hands of our bureaucrats and politicians.

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