‘Years of dawdling’ on airport capacity have left us lagging behind rest of Europe, say Institute of Directors
Business leaders have called for the next government to build two more runways, demanding that a follow-up Airports Commission be established only months after Heathrow’s third runway was approved.
The Institute of Directors urged that a fast-track commission be set up immediately after the election to recommend locations for two additional runways within a year. The controversial expansion of Heathrow has yet to be finally voted through parliament, almost five years after the first Airport Commission was established by David Cameron, and is not expected to be completed before at least 2025.
The IoD, which represents 30,000 UK company directors, said that the commission had underestimated demand for air travel and said Gatwick would also be full before Heathrow, Britain’s main hub airport, was enlarged. Almost 45 million passengers travelled through Gatwick in the last year, a 9% increase.
Dan Lewis, senior infrastructure adviser at the Institute of Directors, said: “The growth in passenger numbers is far ahead of what the Airports Commission said it would be. This is a fast-moving target.
“Whoever wins the next election, they will face a serious challenge in upgrading the UK’s transport and communications network. The years of dawdling on new airport capacity have left us lagging well behind European competitors. Expanding Heathrow is not enough.”
Plans for a third Heathrow runway were cancelled by the coalition in 2010, before renewed pressure from business groups, the aviation industry and backbench MPs pushed the prime minister to reopen the issue of airport expansion. Sir Howard Davies’ commission said only one runway could be built before 2030 within Britain’s climate change obligations.
The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also called for the next government to enable a second runway at Gatwick to help create a “megacity”. While Gatwick was shortlisted as a candidate for a new runway, other airports such as Stansted and Birmingham would be likely to push hard should a future opportunity emerge.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We’re getting on with expanding Britain’s only hub airport – with the new runway on track to open in 2025, doubling cargo capacity and adding 50% more flights. Heathrow continues to support the growth of aviation capacity in the UK in line with strict environmental targets.”
John Stewart, chair of anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, said the IoD was “living in a fantasy world”. He added: “Because of the opposition, it takes years to build one runway. To try to build three at a time would create a nationwide network of opposition from local resident groups and climate change activists, the likes of which the UK has not seen before.”
The IoD also urged a roadmap for building Crossrail 2, the north-south rail line that Transport for London has insisted will be crucial to meet the needs of the capital, particularly once HS2 is operational.
Although it was identified by the National Infrastructure Commission as the single most important project for development, the preferred route has yet to be published by the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, and political impetus for the rail line appears to have diminished. Lewis said: “Since Theresa May took over, it’s back-pedalled a bit. Certainly there’s a sensitivity about it looking like a London project – but you can’t ignore the national importance.”
In a manifesto paper, the business group said that the government should also prioritise ultrafast broadband and 4G coverage. Lewis said: “Ultrafast broadband could mean a rural economy renaissance, it could drive growth and make places with low land values good economic prospects.” The IoD said that there should be a commitment to switching from copper to fibre networks by 2025.
Labour’s leaked manifesto has backed superfast broadband for every home by 2022.