CBI calls for ‘urgent action’ on airport expansion

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Business leaders today said the UK government can no longer ‘bury its head in the sand’ when it comes to expanding the country’s airport capacity.

CBI director-general John Cridland said the employers’ organisation welcomed today’s report from the airports commission, which lays out plans to boost capacity in London and the south-east of England.

He added: “There is now overwhelming evidence that direct flights open doors to new trade, but with capacity in the south-east set to run out as early as 2025, we need to see urgent action as soon as the commission’s final recommendation is delivered to government in summer 2015.

“It is no longer acceptable to bury our heads in the sand on this.”

The Whitehall-appointed commission, chaired by former Financial Services Authority chief Sir Howard Davies, has proposed the creation of a third runway at the UK’s biggest airport, Heathrow.

A second runway at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex is also on the shortlist of options, but the commission stopped short of listing Stansted Airport in Essex as a possible extra runway candidate. It said that, overall, one extra runway would be needed to be operational in south-east England by 2030 with a second additional runway likely to be needed to be operational by 2050.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is bitterly opposed to expansion at Heathrow and favours a new airport in the Thames Estuary, the commission today said it had not shortlisted any of the Thames Estuary options “because there are too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage”.

The commission said it would undertake further study of the Isle of Grain option in the first half of 2014 and “will reach a view later next year on whether that option offers a credible proposal for consideration alongside the other shortlisted options”.

Fraser Grieve, Highlands and Islands director at the Scottish Council for Development & Industry, said air access between the north of Scotland and London “continues to erode”, which could have knock-on effects on food and drink exports and the oil and gas sector.

He added: “Unless action is taken to increase airport capacity, and protect slots for regional connections, areas of the UK without competitive transport alternatives will be unable to continue to make the valuable economic contribution they have been.”