BUSINESS leaders in Yorkshire today welcomed a long-awaited report which recommends building a third runway at Heathrow and claimed it could bring a huge boost to the region’s economy.
And they urged the Government to press ahead and build the runway as quickly as possible – despite the report sparking huge protests. After three years of investigation, the Airports Commission yesterday said Heathrow was best placed to provide “urgently required” capacity.
But the recommendation that a new runway should be built at Heathrow rather than Gatwick created a wave of controversy yesterday and landed the Prime Minister David Cameron with a huge dilemma.
Environmentalists warned that building a new runway at Heathrow will make it harder to solve the problems of air pollution and climate change emissions which the UK already faces.
Mr Cameron will have to decide whether to accept the recommendation, risking a rebellion from figures including London Mayor Boris Johnson. He will also be performing a humiliating U-turn on his own “no ifs, no buts” promise made years ago that Heathrow expansion would not go ahead.
Mr Johnson, seen as a potential successor to Mr Cameron, made clear his continued opposition to an expanded Heathrow, predicting that a third runway “will never be built”. He claimed it would be “very difficult” for the Tories to back Heathrow expansion.
And Cabinet minister Justine Greening, whose south-west London constituency could be affected by any increase in flights, has claimed that expansion is “undeliverable both democratically, politically and legally”.
The commission opted for a new, full-length runway at Heathrow rather than expanding one of the airport’s current runways or building a new one at Gatwick. If the Government makes an early decision, a third runway could be open by 2026.
The recommendation was welcomed by Leeds Chamber’s President Gerald Jennings, who said: “It is now clear there can only be one solution that is right for Yorkshire, and right for Britain. Only a third runway at Heathrow will deliver for the future vibrancy and growth of the region.
“However, for the full benefit to be felt across our region we now need firm commitment from Heathrow to guaranteed “slots” (a minimum of four per day) for connections to Leeds Bradford International Airport as part of the expansion. This will ensure that businesses in our region have continued access to international markets and customers through the UK’s only hub airport. We would encourage Government to view this decision within the wider UK national infrastructure strategy and urge action at pace to ensure the third runway is delivered as quickly as possible.”
Last month, a consortium including the Leeds Chamber, Leeds Bradford Airport and Leeds Council, issued a plea for the Heathrow runway to go ahead.
They said expansion at Heathrow will provide an extra 11,200 jobs and a potential £9bn to Yorkshire’s economy alone. It will also offer up to 40 more global destinations to exporters and strengthen inward investment potential with improved global connectivity.
Mr Cameron confirmed a decision would be taken by the end of the year, adding: “It is important now that there is a very detailed report that we study it.”