Airport expansion: stuck in the departure lounge
During his speech to Conservative conference, Chancellor George Osborne delighted in branding the Conservatives the builders of Britain’s long-term infrastructure. This morning, some business leaders may be feeling ‘procrastinators’ is a more apt description after the Government put off a decision on airport expansion until next year. Environmental concerns were cited as a justification for the delay, although many view it as a bid to spare London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith’s blushes ahead of next May’s elections.
The postponement has been met with incredulity from across the business world, with the CBI and other industry organisations branding it disappointing. One group probably relieved by the delay is the Labour Party, which like the Conservatives is deeply split over possible expansion at Heathrow. Shadow Transport Secretary Lillian Greenwood raised the matter with Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in Parliament yesterday, but it is unlikely Labour will make much hay of the issue until it has resolved its own position on the merits of enlarging an airport in the South East.
As for the Government, ministers may look to show progress in other areas of infrastructure – especially energy - to combat the notion they are stalling on industrial policy. This will be particularly important if they wish to avoid the ire of their new National Infrastructure Commission, whose Chair Lord Adonis cut a somewhat isolated figure when quizzed on Newsnight yesterday. While airport expansion may get stuck in a holding pattern, other infrastructure projects could be closer to take-off.
Photograph: Phillip Capper