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Fears over runway go-ahead delay

Published 10/06/2015

A decision on a new runway was expected to be delivered this month
A decision on a new runway was expected to be delivered this month

Widespread dismay has greeted news of a possible delay over a new runway for south east England.

The Whitehall-appointed Airports Commission is expected, by the end of this month, to bring out its final report in which it will recommend whether a new runway should be built at Gatwick or Heathrow.

But a report in the Financial Times said the Government could delay making its formal response to the commission until Christmas.

And the Department for Transport, while not putting a date on the response, said the commission's report would need "careful consideration" before the next steps were taken.

Paul Everitt, chief executive of aerospace national trade association ADS, said: "We need more runway capacity in south east England.

"We don't have a specific view on just which airport should get a new runway but we need a decision soon. We have been waiting a long time for this.

"Without additional capacity, our global competitiveness is under threat."

Airport expansion is proving a political hot potato.

London mayor Boris Johnson, the newly-elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, is vehemently opposed to a new runway being built at Heathrow.

Richmond Park Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who is seeking to take over from Mr Johnson as mayor, is also against expansion at Heathrow, as is International Development Minister Justine Greening.

John Stewart, chairman of Heathrow residents' group Hacan, said: "We can only speculate why the Government is delaying its decision but it is known there is considerable opposition to Heathrow expansion in the Cabinet, with at least five ministers opposed to a third runway.

"Business will not welcome the uncertainty but it will also mean continued blight for local residents faced with the threat of their homes being demolished or those who face the prospect of living under a new flightpath."

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: "There has to be a quick decision following a long and thorough process by the Airports Commission. Expanding Heathrow will deliver what the nation needs and what politicians want - an opportunity to win the race for jobs and growth by connecting the entire country to the world's fastest-growing destinations.

"Heathrow is the only decision that will create up to 180,000 new jobs and £211 billion of economic growth, shared across the UK. That's why it's supported by businesses, unions, airlines and airports across the land."

A Gatwick spokesman said: "We are confident the commission and the Government will choose Gatwick as - when everything is taken together - we have the strongest case. Our expansion plans offer the only deliverable option so whenever a decision happens we are ready to get on with it immediately."

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokeswoman said: "We are determined to make progress on this vital issue but we need to carefully consider the Airports Commission's full body of work before setting out next steps."

Gavin Hayes, director of Let Britain Fly said: "The political procrastination has to stop. Heathrow has already been full for a decade, Gatwick will be full by 2020 and all of London's airports will be full by the end of the next decade. It is therefore obvious that we need additional capacity.

"Yet it has already taken the best part of three years for a Government commission to conclude that London needs one new runway by 2030.

"The urgency of the situation requires the Government to grasp the moment and respond to the commission's final report in a timely manner and get on and make a swift decision to build a new runway. Kicking the can down the road for another year is no longer an option."

David Leam, director of infrastructure policy at business group London First, said: "The DfT will understandably need time to study the commission's findings. But taking until Christmas to respond risks creating a vacuum over the autumn which critics of airport expansion will happily fill.

"What we need now from the Government is strong leadership and a clear timeframe in which airport expansion will take place."

Meanwhile, Gatwick's bosses have announced that a total of 3.6 million passengers passed through the West Sussex airport last month - 5.8% more than in May 2014.

Gatwick handled 38.87 million passengers in the 12 months ending May 2015 - a 6.5% rise on the figure for the 12 months ending May 2014.

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