The government has been heavily criticised by industry leaders after delaying a decision on the expansion of London aviation capacity until the summer of 2016.
The delay means the final decision on whether a new runway will be built at Heathrow or Gatwick is unlikely to be made until after the election of a new London mayor.
Aecom was among the organisations to attack the delay, saying that “short-term political gain has taken precedence over what is right for the country”.
In the summer, the Sir Howard Davies-led Airports Commission recommended Heathrow as the preferred location for a new runway, but the report was immediately criticised by rival airport Gatwick, environmental campaigners and a number of senior politicians.
The Department for Transport yesterday said the government would undertake further work which it anticipated would conclude over the summer.
It added: “The government will do this quickly so that the timetable for delivering capacity set out by the Airports Commission can be met.”
Further work will include the Airports Commission’s air quality analysis, which the government said will now be tested using “the latest projected future concentrations of nitrogen dioxide”.
The statement continued: “The next step is to continue to develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment. This will include a package for local communities to include compensation, maximising local economic opportunities through new jobs and apprenticeships, and measures to tackle noise.
“More work will be done on environmental impacts. The government expects the airports to put forward ambitious solutions.”
However, Aecom’s infrastructure chief executive for Europe Richard Robinson said: “Business needed an unequivocal green light from government. Instead, after much dithering, delay and inaction, industry has been hit with yet another deferred decision, further numbing the pace of progress.
“Short-term political gain has taken precedence over what is right for the country. This is no way to plan critical infrastructure of national importance.
“Years of political procrastination have impeded many firms’ ability to plan for their future in the UK.
“The country is already lagging behind global rivals with nearly double our aviation capacity and far more nimble mechanisms for delivering new infrastructure. Further postponement could cripple the country’s competitiveness.”
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn called the decision “deeply disappointing”.
She added: “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.”
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin was part of a special Cabinet meeting on the proposals for aviation capacity this evening.
He said: “The case for aviation expansion is clear – but it’s vitally important we get the decision right so that it will benefit generations to come. We will undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon.
“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.”
Andrew Adonis, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission: “I welcome the fact that the government has accepted the case for an extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick, as recommended by the independent Airports Commission. It is right that the decision should be taken on the basis of the latest data on environmental impacts, and the government has committed to complete this work by the summer.
“It is vital that a decision on a new runway is now taken within months. A decision to go ahead in 2016 will make it possible to build the runway by 2030 as recommended by the Airports Commission, but any further delay beyond next summer will jeopardise jobs and growth.”
Mark Reynolds, chief executive, Mace: “The government’s choice not to make a decisive decision and whole-heartedly implement the Airports Commission’s recommendation of a new runway at Heathrow, is bad news for the UK, London and business. This further delay will cost the UK economy another £5bn and put us even further behind other European cities that already operate major hub airports.”
Nick Baveystock, Institution of Civil Engineers: “Government commissioned a comprehensive review to establish the best expansion option for the UK, and this resulted in a clear recommendation. It is right that Heathrow responds to the Commission’s recommendation for a package of measures to address its environmental impacts, but this does not warrant a delay in government’s decision.
”What was needed was a bold, strategic decision on the country’s future hub capacity. Disappointingly we now face yet more delay and uncertainty.”
Gavin Hayes, Let Britain Fly: ”Having already spent three years and millions of pounds of taxpayer money looking at the issue in a commission, including extensive analysis on the economic and environmental impact, this further delay is unacceptable.
“Such indecision risks undermining our economic competitiveness and our global competitors will be rubbing their hands in glee. And the message this sends out to investors is quite frankly a disaster. The government claim they have a ‘long-term economic plan’ but seem incapable of making the big strategic decisions that will deliver future jobs and growth.”
CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn: “By 2025 – the earliest a new runway would be built – London’s airports could already be operating at full capacity and the longer we wait the further we fall behind the likes of Amsterdam and Paris. If we don’t have a new runway up and running by 2030 the cost to the UK will be as much as £5.3bn a year in lost trade to the BRICs alone.”
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of manufacturers’ organisation EEF: “By avoiding a tough decision, despite a well-evidenced shortlist, the government has again dithered and avoided the issue. Industry is fed-up and dismayed by the continued excuses and political dilly dallying.”