The delay over the decision on Heathrow is spineless

EDITOR'S BLOG: We need another runway at Heathrow and the government's dithering is damaging to British business.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 27 Jan 2016

I’m sitting here in South West London this morning watching the aircraft coming into Heathrow at the rate of about one every 45 seconds. Out over Kent and Surrey, planes from North America and the Far East are backed-up circling in stacks, wasting fuel and polluting the air at 10,000 feet, while waiting to be allowed to land. Heathrow is full and we need another runway. We’ve known this for about the last 40 odd years.

Howard Davies was asked by HMG to find an answer and, after lengthy and careful research, he did so. But he - and the rest of us - have been awarded by another tray of seasonal political fudge and pusillanimous vacillation. It is most unimpressive.

There can be no mistaking the response of British business to the news that the government has kicked the runway decision into the grass next to the taxiway for yet another six months. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, described the fresh delay as ‘deeply disappointing’. Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said that business leaders would be ‘tearing their hair out’ at the news.

‘Of course this is a difficult choice, which is the reason the government set up the Airports Commission to make a recommendation balancing economic needs, environmental concerns and the impact on local residents,’ he said. ‘We have to ask now: What was the point of the commission if the government still fails to act?’ That’s what government is supposed to do - make difficult choices. George Osborne is said to specialise in it.

‘It defies belief that having set a target to double our exports, the government is refusing to approve the extra air capacity to help it,’ said Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the EEF manufacturers group. ‘This sends another very damaging signal to inward investors who will question exactly how far the UK really is "open for business".’

So why has Cameron done it? Spinelessness is the obvious conclusion. Tory sources this morning are saying it was panic over what might happen to Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral bid next year. But why? London is a Labour city and Boris was a temporary aberration. Despite the calamity of The Corbyn effect it will take a miracle for Zac Goldsmith, the petulant, ultimate son of privilege, to win the mayorship next year.   

In the meantime we have the diversion of more pointless noise. All the hats are, yet again, back in the ring. The spirited head of Flybe Saad Hammad is yelling that RAF Northolt requires another look with a fast bus service linking it to Heathrow. Stansted is putting its oar in.

And, of course, Gatwick has now been revived from the blow it received when Davies gave it the thumbs down last summer. The Tories will lose more than Goldsmith’s seat of Richmond if they ever say yes to Gatwick. The squires of Sussex and Kent will be in open revolt.

Incidentally, when I arrived back at Gatwick at 10 o'clock on a Friday night a couple of weeks back the place was like Bedlam. It took me 45 minutes to get through passport control where half the automated machines were, as usual, broken. Then the final insult - a 35-minute wait in the teeming ticket hall just to buy a ticket for the misnamed Gatwick Express to London which did its usual dismal thing of beetling through charming places like Coulsdon South at about 14 mph. If Gatwick really is back in the  running - and that would run directly counter to what Howard Davies advised - it will have to raise its game first.

In the meantime the Boeings are still circling, round and round above Leatherhead while there are six runways open and free at Schiphol.


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