A select committee of MPs has called on the government to stop dithering, and make a decision about airport capacity in the south east.
The delay in deciding on the siting of a new runway, with additional airport capacity, “should not continue,” says the report from the House of Commons Transport Committee. “We urge the Government to take a decision on airport expansion without further delay.”
“The Secretary of State needs now to have the courage to take a difficult, and for some people unpopular, decision,” it declared in its report’s conclusion. “By doing so he will break a log-jam and allow new opportunities to flow into the UK economy.”
The committee has eleven members, representing constituencies from across the UK. Chaired by Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, it includes no MPs with constituencies directly affected by Heathrow or Gatwick; though Conservative Huw Merriman’s Bexhill & Battle constituency is not far from Gatwick.
The committee’s report notes that the case for expansion has been repeatedly made, and that the recent delay has only served to time date the detailed, evidence-based work produced by the Airports Commission. It also notes that airport capacity cannot be viewed in isolation from other major infrastructure projects, such as the HS2 rail improvement proposal.
The report is also critical of the lack of a timetable for progressing any works. It notes a series of expected stages, once a decision is made, but says these need to be put into a clear timeline. The delay is hampering business confidence and “is a gift to Heathrow’s and the UK’s international competitors”.
The report cites critical comments from the Institute of Directors, CBI, and British Chambers of Commerce, all concerned that indecision has already been bad for business investment, sending out the wrong messages internationally. In addition, they see the lack of a decision as undermining faith in the Government.
The report also notes that there has been little new uncovered, in terms of fundamentals that might affect a decision, over recent years. “The arguments for and against expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century. Indecision by Government has remained constant over much of the same period. Few now disagree that additional airport capacity is needed in the South East if the UK is to remain economically competitive. The creation of the Airports Commission briefly held out the hope that an evidence-based decision would end years
of political dithering, but the Government has largely squandered this opportunity by
delaying its decision and calling for further work.”
LPA Perspective: This is a withering report on a shameful delay by a government that simply seems scared of making a big, awkward decision. Yes, it will upset many, but it needs to be taken to benefit the futures of many more.
The latest hold up comes as the government used the Volkswagen emissions scandal as an excuse for further work on emissions and air quality, around an expanded airport. Yet, as the select committee notes, there was no confusion on the part of the Airports Commission, as to the real data it used for its calculations.
Perhaps, with the voting for the London mayor now concluded, one excuse for delaying this vital airport decision has been removed. But nobody is holding their breath.