Business leaders demand action on airport expansion

Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson, believes that delays mean 'airlines, the public and the economy are all suffering'

Business leaders and senior backbenchers have lambasted politicians past and present for failing to expand airport capacity in South East England.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire, said: “While MPs from all parties kick airport capacity around like a political football, airlines, the public and the economy are all suffering.

"The UK can't afford any more wasted opportunities. It must make sure that any solution is just that - a solution to the UK's chronic capacity shortage, not an expensive, politically expedient white elephant.

Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Select Committee, told The Independent: “Over past years, governments have failed to actually take a decision. They might have said what they thought should happen, but it's never actually gone ahead. Time is now running out. If we don't do something about expanding our hub capacity, our rivals will continue to expand to our detriment.”

The criticisms were made at the launch of a pro-expansion campaign funded by UK industry, called “Let Britain Fly”. More than 100 business leaders are demanding that the next government acts on the recommendations of the Airport Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies.

Interim proposals are due in December, with the full Davies Commission report expected shortly after the 2015 general election. Sir Howard has already indicated that his commission will favour at least one additional runway, but no political party has agreed to be bound by his recommendations.

John Allan, chairman of Dixons Retail, said “For too long, this issue has been placed in the 'too difficult' box. We can't afford to be gifted amateurs in the world economy - we've got to become more professional. We need to come together on this issue and forge a cross-party agreement.”

Graham Brady MP, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said: “I meet business people in all parts of the north of England who are 'muddling through' by hubbing at airports on the Continent. I'd rather they were changing planes in London rather than in then Holland or Germany or Paris.”

But anti-expansion campaigners accused the new campaign of lacking focus. John Stewart of HACAN Clear Skies, which opposes a third runway at Heathrow, said: “It is too easy simply to make general calls for airport expansion without exploring its impacts on local communities. Let Britain Fly needs to do this if it is to become a serious player in the debate.”

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