Now the election is behind us and Brexit is underway, Lord Andrew Adonis, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), wants the government to turn its attention to other pressing matters in its in-tray.
Specifically, he is calling on the government to ensure that Brexit and a hung parliament do not delay infrastructure projects critical to the UK’s competitiveness and productivity. And at the top of his list is a third runway at Heathrow.
Although the London hub was identified as suitable for expansion 14 years ago and a new strip was agreed in principle late last year, the government did not mention it in the Queen's Speech a week ago.
Adonis is right that a firm and final decision should not be left idling on the runway. Air links equate to good trade links, particularly in the post Brexit world. As he says: “There’s no point saying Britain is open to the world if you can’t get to and from the rest of the world because Heathrow is full.” The NIC says a national policy statement must be agreed by MPs by next May at the latest to keep the mooted expansion on track.
There are also wider economic reverberations from any failure to give another strip the green light, and pronto. In the words of Andy Silvester, head of campaigns at the Institute of Directors, a parliament in paralysis and a government refusing to take key decisions, particularly on Heathrow, could hit confidence at home and abroad at a critical and sensitive time for the UK. As a result, investment, jobs, and prosperity could all face severe headwinds. The UK's economic competitiveness could be damaged in both the short- and long-term. That cannot be allowed to happen at this historic juncture.
Adonis has set more than Heathrow in his sights. His top infrastructure priorities for the coming year include HS2, new electricity generating capacity, broadband roll-out, and Crossrail 2. Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry backs him entirely. In Hardie's view, this plethora of projects represents an opportunity to transform the infrastructure “backbone” of the UK. But to make it happen, he says pens will have to be put down and diggers started up.
Successive governments have said a lot on infrastructure, but delivered comparatively little. It is time to break that pattern with decisive action on Heathrow, and sooner rather than later.