The oft-delayed decision on expansion of runway capacity in London – a move that industry regards as crucial to the UK's future prosperity – has been put back again.
Until last week's Brexit majority in the EU referendum and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, a decision on whether to build a third runway at Heathrow or a second one at Gatwick had been expected in the next few weeks.
But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the House of Commons on Thursday, "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 government-appointed Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow. Publication of the commission's report had already been delayed until after May's general election and the government subsequently promised a decision by the end of 2015.
But in December, amid mounting opposition from prominent Conservatives to Heathrow expansion (including from Boris Johnson, previously one of the favourites to succeed Mr Cameron), the government said a decision would be delayed until this summer while a further environmental impact study was conducted. Now the political impasse has led to yet another delay, which some believe could last until 2017.
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."
Gavin Hayes, director of campaign group Let Britain Fly, commented, "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."
Mike Cherry, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), added, "The failure to take action on aviation capacity is hugely disappointing. We held a major consultation with small businesses up and down the country supporting the work of the Airports Commission.
"The final report backed our calls for regional connectivity and improved surface access. As the commission made clear, the UK urgently needs additional aviation capacity.
"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.
"FSB will be engaging with all candidates for prime minister, and all parties, to tackle airport expansion when the new prime minister takes office in 10 weeks' time."
Mr McLoughlin told the Commons that the government planned to publish the further analysis on air quality "soon". He added, "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 (Airports Commission) report."
Read analysis of what the vote to leave the EU may mean for for the global mobility industry in Brexit is a reality – a new era for global mobility? by Relocate Global's managing editor, Fiona Murchie.
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