Delays to a new runway put our trade and jobs at risk, says Sir Martin Sorrell

The chief executive of advertising giant WPP writes exclusively for The Independent

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The Independent Online

After the election one of the first infrastructure issues facing ministers is the building of a new runway.

For almost three years Sir Howard Davies’s Airports Commission has crunched the numbers, already concluding that the South-east needs at least one additional runway. After extensive debate the commission will shortly make a final recommendation based on the evidence: either an expanded Gatwick or Heathrow.

Our busiest airport, Heathrow, has been full for a decade, and Gatwick, our second busiest airport, will be full by 2020. It’s time political leaders committed to bold and swift action.

With our trade deficit widening to a four-year high, airport expansion is a critical part of securing Britain’s economic future. By value, 40 per cent of our exports go by air, and trade volumes are up to 20 times higher with countries with a direct air link to the UK.

Gatwick expansion could deliver up to £127bn in economic benefit, Heathrow up to £214bn. Each option could deliver increased employment across a range of sectors: construction, airports, airlines, retail, tourism and freight, to name but a few.

There is no reason to delay for the sake of sparing the public purse; most of the costs for airport expansion would be paid for by private, not public investment. So while airport expansion will indeed cost billions, what we’re talking about is private investors pumping a great deal of money into the British economy.

Obstacles to airport expansion are obstacles to securing future jobs, growth, trade and investment. The public increasingly gets it. A recent Populus poll commissioned by Let Britain Fly has found that Britons supporting new runways outnumber those against expansion by a factor of three to one.

Britain’s competitors definitely get it. Our European neighbours invested in their airport infrastructure years ago: Amsterdam has six runways, while Frankfurt and Paris each have four. The result? Paris now has 50 per cent more flights to China.

By 2036 China will build 17 new runways, Istanbul will build a new six-runway hub, and the new Dubai World Central airport will have more passenger capacity than all of London’s airports combined.

Meanwhile, London airports – and British businesses – remain in a state of uncertainty. So I hope the new government will move swiftly and make the decision to build that one, much-needed, new runway.

Sir Martin Sorrell is WPP CEO and let Britain Fly backer

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