Airport expansion: This is politics for grown-ups - a decision must be made soon

Emma Haslett
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London From The Air
Making a swift decision will prop up business confidence (Source: Getty)

Amid all the schoolyard bickering which took place yesterday between those in the running (and those deciding not to be in the running) for both Tory and Labour leadership came a rather sombre statement by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

During parliamentary questions, he confessed that a decision over increasing London’s airport capacity will not take place until “at least” October, when a new Prime Minister has been appointed.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that today marks the anniversary of the publication of the landmark report by Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission, in which he recommended building a third runway at Heathrow. The report, itself long-delayed (and costing somewhere between £15m and £20m), said Heathrow was “best-placed to provide the type of capacity most urgently required”.

So no wonder McLoughlin’s statement drew snorts of frustration from businesses, who have been forced to endure months of indecision - and even more in-fighting - from the government over the issue. Yesterday they dutifully repeated their point that they are relying on increased capacity to create growth - you could practically hear the sighs as they again urged the government to make a swift decision. Although after a year, any decision now can hardly be called swift.

For the next person to move into Number 10 this issue should be at the top of the pile. It won’t be an easy choice: expand Heathrow, and draw the ire of thousands of local residents, not to mention the inhabitants of Harmondsworth, the village the third runway will swallow up. Choose the Gatwick option, and incur the wrath of thousands of (largely Conservative-voting) Surrey and Sussex locals, unhappy at their green and pleasant land being defiled by the boom of jet engines.

But this is what politics for grown-ups looks like. The pound is down, markets are volatile and business confidence is faltering. Taking the bull by the horns, and making the decision quickly and with the minimum of fuss, will demonstrate the next Prime Minister is prepared to get their hands dirty when they need to.

So we will try it one more time, with gusto: once the dust has cleared after leadership races, this decision must be made, and fast. If businesses cannot trust their new leader to help them grow, how can they trust that they have their best interests at heart?

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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