Airport expansion decision postponed to next summer

11 Dec 15

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has reiterated government support for airport expansion in the southeast of England but delayed a decision on where to build a new runway until next summer.

Publishing the government’s response to the Airports Commission, which recommended three possible expansion options – two for Heathrow and one for Gatwick – McLoughlin said the case for aviation expansion was clear.

However, he added that more work was needed in order to assess the long-term environmental impacts of the expansion, including on air quality, noise increases and carbon.

He insisted the work would still allow a new runway to be operational by 2030, which is the date that the commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, said new capacity would be needed by.

“We must develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people. We will continue work on all the shortlisted locations, so that the timetable for more capacity set out by Sir Howard is met.”
The Department for Transport said approving runway expansion would be a “complex and challenging decision” and the commission’s air quality analysis needed to be tested using the latest projected future concentrations of nitrogen dioxide.

It also stated more work was needed on environmental impacts, and the government called on the airports themselves to put forward ambitious solutions on mitigation.
Responding to the announcement, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said the delay was “deeply disappointing”.

She added: “We urgently need to increase our runway capacity to spur trade growth, investment and job creation. Just eight new routes to emerging markets could boost our exports by up to £1bn a year.

“It is of course essential that environmental conditions are met. But the Airports Commission spent three years analysing impartial evidence, at a cost of £20m, and the National Infrastructure Commission was set up just two months ago to take an evidence-based approach to our needs. We cannot fall into the habit of simply commissioning new evidence, instead of the government taking the tough decisions needed at the end of the process.”

British Chambers of Commerce director general John Longworth called the postponement “gutless” given ministers had previously promised a clear decision on a new runway by the end of the year.

“Business will question whether ministers are delaying critical upgrades to our national infrastructure for legitimate reasons, or to satisfy short-term political interests,” he added.

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