UK airport expansion debate reignited by Brexit vote
27 / 06 / 2016
The Brexit vote has reignited calls for a decision on airport expansion in the southeast of the country and the debate over whether Heathrow of Gatwick is best suited to provide an extra runway.
Shortly after the results of the vote were announced, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would resign from his position over the coming months, sparking a leadership contest.
The contest has raised the possibility that a politician opposed to expansion at Heathrow could be elected as leader, with Boris Johnson, who is staunchly against a new runway at the west London airport, one of the early favourites.
It is also likely to further delay a decision, which was due this summer, as politicians concentrate on a leadership campaign and renegotiating an exit deal with European Union.
Forwarder group the British International Freight Association (BIFA) urged the government to make a decision on airport expansion, with it backing Heathrow in line with the findings of the Airports Commission last year.
BIFA director general Robert Keen said: “In December last year, BIFA voiced the dismay of its 1,500 member companies when the government announced that it would be deferring its final decision on expanding UK airport capacity until the summer of 2016.
“With last week’s developments, we are now entering a period of great uncertainty on the political front, and BIFA members are worried that will result in big decisions being postponed, or abandoned completely.
“In his resignation statement, David Cameron said he had always believed that big decisions had to be confronted, not ducked.
“He should make good on that sentiment by announcing forthwith that there will be no further delay and the Government will move forward with the recommendations made by the Airports Commission by building more capacity at Heathrow airport.
“The UK’s freight forwarding community, which is the engine of Britain’s international trade, is counting on the government to show that we are a confident, outward-looking trading nation, still capable of taking bold decisions that have a direct positive effect on the UK economy, its international connectivity and reputation.”
The two airports have also been setting out their cases for expansion.
On Sunday evening, Heathrow Airport jumped on the results of a new poll that suggested the majority of UK politicians supported its expansion.
The poll of 150 members of parliament suggested that 65% of those polled back a new runway at Heathrow while two thirds rank a new Heathrow runway in their top three infrastructure projects that will benefit the UK economy.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “At an uncertain time for the British economy, MPs recognise that Heathrow is a private sector infrastructure project that will spread growth across Britain from the moment that we get a green light.
“Now more than ever, people across Britain are counting on the Government to take bold decisions that show we are a confident outward looking trading nation. MPs are clear that expanding Heathrow will help secure Britain’s long-term economic future. Heathrow is the right choice for a stronger Britain.”
Meanwhile, Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate told business leaders at the National Infrastructure Forum that Britain cannot afford more delays on airport expansion and only Gatwick can provide certainty of delivery.
“It is now clearer than ever that only Gatwick can deliver the new runway Britain needs, to provide the direct connections to North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia that we all want, because only Gatwick can balance the economy and the environment,” said Wingate.
“In these uncertain times that means Gatwick can give the country certainty of delivery. And Britain cannot afford yet more delay.
“We have pledged we can deliver by 2025, at a cost that everyone can afford, without public subsidy and at a fraction of the environmental impact of Heathrow. None of that has changed.
“Momentum has been growing behind Gatwick over recent years. The time has now come for everyone to get behind a new runway so the country can get the economic boost that is more important than ever. And that can only mean Gatwick.”