Transport Select Committee urges government to provide clear timetable for south east airport expansion plan
The government's failure to set out a clear timetable for airport expansion has been blasted as a “squandered opportunity” by top MPs.
In a report released today by the Transport Select Committee, which backs the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, ministers are urged to make a decision as soon as possible to end decades of “political dithering”.
“The government must make up its mind. The decision on location is not the end of the process, it is the start of one. Real progress cannot begin until the location is declared. Work on environmental issues can run in parallel with other pre-construction work,” chair of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman, said.
“The months ticking by constitute time wasted for the UK’s economic prosperity. UK Plc needs to know that a decision will be taken. Doing nothing means the UK continues to lose out.”
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However, the government said last December it would wait until this summer to make a final decision, pending new analysis of the environmental impacts of a third runway at Heathrow.
David Leam, infrastructure director at business group London First, said: “What this Select Committee report is clear about is that there is no missing evidence or information here – they’re basically saying the government has all the information it already needs to make the decision.”
The report also puts the Transport Committee directly at odds with the Treasury Select Committee. In February, the committee’s chair, Andrew Tyrie, warned the case for airport expansion was “opaque” and that both the public and parliament would require more information before making a decision.
Last year Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission, which was tasked with providing an independent assessment of how the UK should maintain its global aviation hub status, released a report backing a third runway at Heathrow as the best of three shortlisted options. Other options included building an extension at Heathrow with no third strip, and constructing a new runway at Gatwick.
Read more: Heathrow expansion "better" than Gatwick – but both underestimated costs
The Commission estimated the benefits of a new runway at Britain’s largest airport would likely amount to between £112bn and £211bn, while the benefits of an expansion at Gatwick would be between £42bn and £127bn.
Dr Adam Marshall, acting director general at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Business doesn’t want a timetable – it wants a decision, and it wants it fast. There should be no more prevaricating. We need [to] see it become a reality.”
City stalwart Sir Mike Rake said: “Sometimes just making a decision is better than no decision.”
The Transport Select Committee’s report also warns the UK’s current connectivity with emerging markets is a “major concern”. London has fewer connections to the BRIC economies than Dubai.
If additional airport capacity is not operational until 2030, the UK could lose as much as £5bn per year in trade to the BRIC economies alone, according to the Confederation of British Industry.