A Tory MP lambasted the government on Thursday following the announcement of a delay to the decision on how to expand airport capacity in the South East of England. Despite a July review concluding that a third runway at Heathrow was the best of three possible options, the Government said it had ordered a fresh analysis of the environmental impacts, with the new review scheduled for completion by next summer.
In a statement, the MP said the decision “will be seen internationally as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected open trading economy.” He added: “What we have is neither decision, nor direction, but political cowardice, weakness and prevarication.”
Blunt said the delay was an effort by the government to avoid “criticism” ahead of next year’s London mayoral election. “Zac Goldsmith should not be allowed to exercise a veto over the national interest,” he added.
Goldsmith, who is the Tory candidate for May's election, had vowed to quit as an MP if the Heathrow option is approved.
John Longworth, Director-general at the British Chambers of Commerce, joined the censure. "Businesses will see this as a gutless move by a Government that promised a clear decision on a new runway by the end of the year," he said. "Business will question whether ministers are delaying critical upgrades to our national infrastructure for legitimate reasons, or to satisfy short-term political interests. Ministers need to stop prevaricating and get on with doing what the country sorely needs."
The CBI was also condemnatory, warning the delay could cost the British economy more than £5 billion.
Though Thursday's decision was welcomed by local campaigners and environmental groups, Shadow Transport Secretary Lilian Greenwood added some perspective, noting: "Tonight's statement owes more to political calculations than genuine concern for the environment or residents who now face another year of blight and uncertainty."
Here’s Crispin Blunt’s statement in full:
This is a disgraceful vacillation by the Government. They will richly deserve the opprobrium to be poured all over this shocking non-decision.
Sir Howard Davies’s Airports Commission undertook rigorous analysis and extensive consultations before it made a clear, unequivocal and unanimous decision for Heathrow. Sir Howard said in his final report in July.
The Commission urges the Government to make an early decision on its recommendations. Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected open trading economy in the twenty first century.
We were promised a decision by the end of the year. Recently we were promised a direction. What we have is neither decision, nor direction, but political cowardice, weakness and prevarication. People will see through this pathetic effort to avoid criticism in the run-up to the London mayoral election. Zac Goldsmith should not be allowed to exercise a veto over the national interest.
We will fight tooth and nail any attempts to resurrect Gatwick, whose flawed and costly proposal was left dead and buried by the Airports Commission. It is not the easier option. It would not survive the scrutiny of Parliament and the courts. Gatwick would deliver half the economic benefit, has wretched rail and road transport connections, and would fail to provide the hub airport which the UK needs.