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Olympics chairman challenges government to show Heathrow leadership

Sir John Armitt has challenged the government to stop deliberating and make a decision on its options for expanding aviation capacity in the South-east.

The Olympic Delivery Authority chairman was speaking at the UK Trade & Investment Infrastructure Summit where he insisted that the UK was falling behind countries who were willing to make decisions and take risks on major infrastructure projects.

He said: “You can make these things too complex. Our Victorian heritage was one of vision and risk taking and we have to hang on to these same aspects. The rest of the world is more visionary. Look at Doha; there’s not too much analysis of what they want to create in 50 years time.

“I would like to see a repeat of us accepting that some major infrastructure issues require a lot of vision and guts. If we analyse them to death, we will never do them.”

He added that there was a danger that important policies will get pushed into the long grass and called for the immediate publication of the consultation on increasing aviation capacity in the South-east, after it was delayed having been expected before Parliamentary recess.

An aviation policy statement was published in July, but did not include reference to any new runways at London’s major airports.

Sir John told CN: “Clearly this is a very political issue. But every quarter we don’t make a decision we are putting ourselves at a disadvantage. As tough as it is, that is the reality that needs to be grasped, not a series of discussions that we discuss for another three years.”

In an interview with CN last month, Sir John said the UK’s ambition on high speed rail was “not defendable” when compared with other countries such as France. He also called on government to work more closely with local authorities on boosting projects worth £1m to £15m to kickstart the construction industry and economy.

In a challenge to government, Sir John also called for greater leadership and power for decision makers.

“I’m very disappointed that [there were some] cities around the country that didn’t vote for elected mayors. If you don’t give people leadership and power then not a lot happens. You have to have political leaders to have the guts to say yes and ‘we are not going to debate it for five years because it is not in the national interest’.

“There is no point taking 30 years planning [an airport] at the Thames Estuary because there won’t be a market there anymore.”

Commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Sassoon defended the government’s position though and said: “There are a number of people who will be frustrated about the time it takes for government to make decisions.

“The decisions will come. We will achieve our objectives but these are very difficult decisions - we will take our time and get them right.”

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