CBI hints at backing for expansion at Heathrow

Lobby group's emphasis on an expanded hub with spare capacity

The CBI has dropped a heavy hint that it favours an expanded Heathrow airport as it called for “spades in the ground” by 2020 to tackle the UK’s shortage of runway capacity and boost trade with emerging markets.

The business lobby group’s push for a single hub airport with the capacity to add new routes comes on the eve of an update from Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission. The commission is expected to rule this week on whether the “Boris Island” airport in the Thames estuary advocated by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, will be added its final shortlist of options, which includes extra runways at either Heathrow or Gatwick.

The CBI has not given an explicit verdict on its preferred option, but its emphasis on an expanded hub with spare capacity and emphasis on speedy action following Sir Howard’s final report next summer suggests a third runway at Heathrow.

The CBI said hub airports were best placed to deliver new routes to emerging markets, drawing on both the local population and transfer passengers arriving from other destinations. Citing research by the consultancy Steer Davies Gleave, it said that just eight new routes to emerging markets could generate £1bn a year in trade for the UK – crucial when the Chancellor is struggling to meet a target to double exports to £1trn by 2020.

Heathrow’s capacity is already full and it is slipping behind European competitors who are creating new routes to airports including Xiamen in China and Recife in Brazil, as well as other emerging economies such as Chile and Indonesia.

The CBI said the commission needed to make a strong political and economic case for action in the next parliament, with a schedule that delivers spades in the ground by 2020, as well as a timetable for weighing up extra capacity beyond 2030 to prevent another capacity crunch.

Katja Hall, CBI deputy director general, said: “The Chancellor has set businesses ambitious targets for increasing exports, and there is simply no way of achieving these goals without upping our game in emerging markets.

“Our analysis last year demonstrated that connectivity is the lifeblood of trade, but it also highlighted that the UK is already falling behind, so every day we delay making a decision makes matters worse.”

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