MPs have told government to stop “dithering” over London airport expansion and back a third runway at Heathrow.
In a report published today the Commons’ transport select committee called on the government to green light Heathrow “without delay”, saying the airport provided the “greatest economic benefit” for the UK.
The committee of 11 MPs warned that any further delay “would create uncertainty” throughout the global business community and potentially affect companies’ willingness to make long-term investments in the country.
The committee’s findings echo calls from senior figures at construction firms, who in February wrote to George Osborne urging him to back a runway at Heathrow.
The report comes in the wake of a series of delays to a decision on airport expansion.
Last July, the Sir Howard Davies-led Airports Commission concluded that a third runway at Heathrow was the best option for airport expansion in the South-east.
A decision had been expected last year but this was postponed until the summer, with transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin saying further air quality tests had to be carried out before a decision could be made.
The committee said the Airport Commission provided “the opportunity to end years of political dithering on the issue” but this chance had now been “squandered” by the government’s indecision.
It criticised the government for its lack of transparency over the delays and said that it did not think extra work needed to be carried out before a decision was made.
It urged Mr McLoughlin to set out a clear timetable for a decision immediately, as well as an outline for what additional work is needed and when it would be carried out.
Since the commission backed Heathrow, the airport has faced heavy criticism over the environmental impact of a third runway on local residents.
In November, Transport for London said it would require an extra £20bn of funding to develop the transport infrastructure to support a third runway at Heathrow.
The committee said that while it believed these concerns deserved “careful consideration”, they could be addressed during the preconstruction phase after a decision was made.
Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “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 preconstruction work.
“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.”
A Gatwick spokesman said: “The transport committee’s astonishing statement that the arguments ‘for and against airport expansion have changed little in a quarter of a century’ ignores the significant change within the aviation industry following the break-up of the BAA monopoly in 2009 and the worsening of air quality in the UK which has repeatedly halted Heathrow’s plans in the past.
“In one key respect, however, the committee is right to say that nothing has changed – Heathrow is still undeliverable.
”Fortunately, there is now a credible alternative at Gatwick that can mean Britain finally gets on with it.
“The opportunity to end decades of delay and false starts can only be achieved by giving the green light for Gatwick expansion.”