Doubts are descending on the plans to expand London’s runway capacity after this week’s final announcement was postponed until ‘at least October’ and the completion of the Conservative leadership race.
Questions are being asked about whether there is still the will to force through such an expensive and divisive decision given the political upheaval and financial turbulence caused by the Brexit vote.
There are also suggestions that Gatwick’s plan to build a second runway may now be back on the table.
The Airport Commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow will have to wait, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said last week.
A final call on the issue had been due at the end of last year, and was then postponed until July 7.
Irene Fairbairn, the chair of Tunbridge Wells Anti Airport Noise Group (TWAANG), said: “Now that everything political and economic has been thrown up in the air, we can expect Gatwick to restate their case for another runway and we must be ready to redouble our efforts to oppose it.”
Martin Barraud, chair of Gatwick Obviously Not (GON), said: “Many would argue that the expansion is not needed, and the way things have gone in the last couple of weeks, who is to say that it will go ahead?”
And another campaign group, Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emissions (CAGNE), said: “Brexit makes expansion at Gatwick both irrational and impossible.”
Two heavyweights in the Tory leadership contest, Theresa May and Michael Gove, both have constituencies near Heathrow and have campaigned against aircraft noise on behalf of local residents.
Sir Howard Davies’ independent commission recommended the expansion at Heathrow 12 months ago, yet Gatwick continues to insist it could open a second runway by 2025 with no public subsidy required.
Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye has said the expansion in West London ‘must be a key building block in the government’s Brexit plan’.
“It will allow British exporters to trade with all the growing markets of the world, strengthening Britain’s position as one of the great trading nations.”
But Gatwick’s CEO, Stewart Wingate, told the National Infrastructure Forum: “It is now clearer than ever that only Gatwick can deliver the new runway Britain needs. And Britain cannot afford yet more delay.”
Gatwick broke the 40 million passenger mark for the first time in the 12 months up to March, bringing a 5.5 per cent increase in revenue on the previous year.
And Mr Wingate expects that figure to rise to 43 million by 2017 despite nervousness in the aviation industry that European and even US carriers will see a fall in profits in the wake of the Brexit vote.
The UK air passenger market may shrink by three to five per cent by 2020, according to the International Aviation Transport Association.