Nearly 60 business leaders, including Sir Mike Rake, BT’s chairman, and Michael Spencer, the Icap chief executive, have called on David Cameron to hold a parliamentary vote on Heathrow expansion within 12 months.
After three years of deliberation, the Airports Commission finally reported earlier this month, recommending a third runway at Heathrow over a second at Gatwick. The cost would be £18.6bn, but the benefits to the wider economy in trade and tourism could amount to £147bn and 70,000 jobs.
But the Conservative leadership has long dreaded the idea of expanding Heathrow, after Mr Cameron made a “no ifs, no buts” promise to oppose an extra runway when he was leader of the opposition ahead of the 2010 general election. A host of senior Tories oppose the plan, including London Mayor Boris Johnson and his possible successor, Zac Goldsmith, the Richmond Park and North Kingston MP.
Mr Cameron has already agreed to decide whether to endorse the commission’s recommendation by the end of the year. Business is overwhelmingly keen for the Prime Minister to move quickly on expansion, and executives are particularly concerned that Heathrow has already been full-up for a decade and that Dubai has overtaken it as the world’s busiest airport.
But environmentalists and anti-expansion campaigners are separately urging the Government to open a fresh inquiry into the impact a third runway would have on the already heavily polluted air in the Heathrow region. Gatwick said it had taken legal advice confirming that Heathrow expansion would be unlawful because of breaches of air quality regulations, although the commission concluded that this would not be the case.
Leading business executives have now signed a letter co-ordinated by the pro-expansion campaign group Let Britain Fly, demanding that Mr Cameron goes further and commits to a parliamentary vote to approve a third runway before next year’s summer recess. It has also been sent to the Cabinet’s sub-committee on aviation.
The letter reads: “After nearly three years examining the evidence the view of the Airports Commission is unequivocal: Britain needs airport expansion and the best solution is to build a new runway at Heathrow.
“We back this recommendation and believe the Government must now provide a swift and positive response to the commission’s final report that sets out a clear timetable for an early vote to take place by summer 2016.”
Other signatories include WPP’s chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell; Land Securities boss Robert Noel; Selfridges managing director Paul Kelly; GKN and Babcock International chairman Mike Turner; chief executive of Next, Lord Wolfson; and Basil Scarsella, of UK Power Networks.