Airport expansion decision deferred until new Tory leader elected

The decision on expanding airport capacity in south-east England has been deferred until a new Conservative leader is elected, the Government confirmed.

David Cameron was expected to confirm whether projects at Heathrow or Gatwick would get the go-ahead in the coming weeks if the UK voted to remain in the EU.

But Mr Cameron's resignation following the Brexit vote means the decision will not be made until the autumn.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the House of Commons: "I had hoped that we would be able to announce a decision on airport capacity this summer.

"Clearly any announcement on airport capacity would have to be made when the House is in session and being realistic, given recent events, I cannot now foresee an announcement until at least October."

In July last year the Davies Commission called for airport expansion by 2030 and recommended the building of a third runway at Heathrow.

But in December the Department for Transport announced that further investigation into noise, pollution and compensation would be carried out before a decision is made.

Mr McLoughlin went on: "We aim to publish the further analysis on air quality soon.

"Separately, promoters have announced undertakings which would increase the compensation available for residents living near the airports and the connectivity between other UK airports.

"The Government is fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects it has set out, including delivering runway capacity on the timetable set out by the Davies report."

Heathrow and Gatwick responded to the announcement by reiterating their claims for expansion.

A statement released by Heathrow said: "Government can send the strongest possible signal that Britain is open for business and confident in its future by expanding Heathrow."

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate told the Press Association: "When we look at whoever the next leader is, our intention will be simply to continue to press the merits of our case because we simply think we've got the strongest case and we certainly believe we've got the only deliverable case."

The delay was criticised by business leaders amid concerns that the importance of expanding aviation capacity was boosted by the vote to leave the EU.

Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of business group London First, said: "Clearly this is disappointing. Nothing can be more vital for a trading island than sufficient air links, especially after the referendum result.

"There should be no question that whoever takes over from David Cameron must keep the Government's commitment to open a new runway by 2030."

Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), added: "The Brexit decision makes today's further postponement all the more frustrating.

"Government should be getting back to business, taking forward a major infrastructure project which would have boosted exports, jobs and growth across the UK."

Gavin Hayes, director of campaign group Let Britain Fly, said: "One of the first tests of leadership for the next prime minister, and the clearest way of demonstrating we have strong government again, is to make this long overdue decision.

"There is too much economic turmoil right now to delay this any longer."