Virgin’s £5bn has no place at Heathrow

SIR RICHARD Branson said an investment of up to £5bn over the next few years will not find its way to UK shores unless the government rethinks its policy against a Heathrow expansion.

He said that opportunities for investment in the UK have “ground to a halt”, echoing concerns voiced by his company Virgin Atlantic about the lack of development prospects in south east England.

“We are being left behind other European competitors in terms of ability to grow, and that is a concern,” a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said.

Sir Richard called the government’s decision to block a third runway at Heathrow “purely political and incredibly damaging” and said the “cowardly” move is “holding the country back”.

He said £5bn worth of investment – roughly the cost of 20 new planes – which could have created new routes and more jobs at London’s flagship airport will now wing its way to the American and Australian air industries.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The ongoing indecision on how to deal with the crippling lack of capacity is seriously impeding UK PLC’s growth potential as well as having a strangling effect on tourism.”

The company called for the government to address “these major issues” in the aviation review about to be announced, which will not include Heathrow – a move which Sir Richard said “makes no sense whatsoever.”

“The UK needs a grand plan and fast,” the airline said.

● The airline employs around 9,000 people and carries up to 6m passengers a year.

● Virgin Atlantic made a pre-tax operating profit of £18.5m in fiscal 2011, compared to a loss of £132m the year before.