Dithering on airport capacity is choking British businesses, Theresa May needs to take urgent action

 
Tracey Boles
Conservative Party Conference Held In Birmingham - Day 3
Prime Minister Theresa May is due to chair a cabinet sub-committee to decide on new capacity (Source: Getty)

The decision on whether to construct a new runway in the south east of England has been parked for too long. That cannot remain the case for much longer – a lack of airport capacity in the south east is acting a major constraint upon business and economic growth. Business leaders have become increasingly exasperated at politicians' sluggish, complacent and self-indulgent approach to the situation.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes new runways are ultimately needed at both Heathrow and Gatwick in order to future-proof our economy. As chief executive Colin Stanbridge puts it: "We need a decision now and a new runway could then have a chance to begin by mid-2020s to avoid long-term damage to the economy."

Read more: Gatwick establishes Growth Board ahead of government's aviation decision

No wonder business wants an end to the prolonged indecision on where to place an additional airport runway to serve London.

Prime Minister Theresa May is due to chair a cabinet sub-committee to decide on new capacity which could take the form of an extra strip at Heathrow or Gatwick (at a cost of £17.6bn and £7.1bn respectively), or an extension of an existing runway at Heathrow (£13.4bn). May taking charge is a sign that she views a decision on airport expansion as a priority, and rightly so.

In the aftermath of Brexit, the world will not stand by and wait for us. Rhian Kelly, business environment director at the Confederation of British Industry, explains: "While we're staring at the departures board, airports in France, Germany and the Netherlands are all building routes with emerging markets." Matthew Hill of campaign group Let Britain Fly concurs that, to thrive post-Brexit, we must have more frequent and direct flights to these destinations.

Read more: Heathrow grows revenue and profit as it waits for expansion decision

The government says it remains committed to the delivery of additional runway capacity by 2030 and that it will decide soon. The risk is that the sub-committee will be a talking shop and that the decision will be kicked into the long-grass again. Let's hope the PM gets on with it this time, and bears in mind that for business and the economy, it is a case of the more strips the merrier.

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