Dithering over Heathrow 'could cost billions'

UK missing out on international trade

Updated: 
Airplane in flight near Heathrow airport

In the 15 years it will take to build a new runway at London's Heathrow Airport, the UK could lose more than £31 billion in trade.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) will today warn an airports conference that the current inability to increase flights to the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - means the UK is missing out.

And if the project is delayed beyond 2030, it says, this figure could rise by £5.3 billion a year - some £600,000 every hour.

"When it comes to airport capacity, time is money. We're not just missing out on global opportunities, but paying an economic price right here in the UK," CBI director general Katja Hall will tell the Runways Conference.

"We need to get the legal process under way before the end of the year, and Parliament needs to get behind it. If it does that, we could see spades in the ground by 2020, with a new runway online between 2025 and 2030, and the whole country reaping the benefits by 2040."

The Airports Commission said last week that the government should approve the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. However, David Cameron - who at one point said he strongly opposed a third runway - has said he plans to wait until the end of the year before making a decision.

Whether Cameron accepts the recommendation or not, he will face opposition, not least from Conservative mayor or London Boris Johnson, who has been pushing for a new airport built on the Thames estuary east of London.

The main issue for those opposing the expansion is the quality of life of local residents. Suggested conditions for the project include a ban on flights between 11.30pm and 6am, as well as a commitment from parliament not to expand the airport with a fourth runway. This, though, would represent 'the mother of all challenges', according to the chairman of anti-Heathrow campaign group HACAN, John Stewart.

And there are also concerns over how the project will be implemented.

"Travellers who want to get to and from the airport easily depend on an overall experience of connectivity and not just air travel from A to B. Yet this week it was also announced by Network Rail that an £85 billion package of national rail upgrades is being pulled," comments Dr Michael Synnott of Warwick Business School.

"It is not good flying here and then being stuck in traffic; Heathrow needs to be served by adequate rail connections to other parts of Britain, just like Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam."
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