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Business leaders have called for a post-Brexit UK to deliver “strong, calm and decisive leadership on infrastructure decision”, and to put expansion at Heathrow on top of the agenda.
Noting the huge uncertainty and financial impact of last month’s referendum, the CBI is urging the government to take some bold decisions.
“If we believed infrastructure decisions were important two weeks ago, now, after Brexit, they are even more important,” said CBI president Paul Drechsler.
“In these times of economic uncertainty, we know that economic stimulus will be vital. And infrastructure is a powerful way to achieve this.”
Permission to expand Heathrow comes top of the list, both to boost jobs in the UK and hold off competition from abroad, he says.
“Let’s be clear, in the aftermath of Brexit, the world won’t wait for us. Other countries don’t care about our excuses. The competition is hungry and more than willing to take advantage of our weakness. While we’re staring at the departures board, airports in France, Germany and the Netherlands are all building routes with emerging markets.
“If the UK doesn’t act now, we could lose over £30bn in trade by 2030 with the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] economies alone.
“And our loss would be our European rivals’ gain. Of that £30bn of trade, £15bn would go to Germany and £7.5bn would go to France.”
Mr Drechsler added: “The [European] Commission recommended Heathrow [expansion], make this your starting point.
“We cannot go back to the drawing board – again. We cannot afford to be put on hold – again. Take action, make a plan, and let’s get on with it.”
Issuing statements almost daily now, Heathrow notes that it “has already planned logistics hubs across the UK including in the north of England and in Scotland”. It says: “They will simplify the supply of products and services to the country’s biggest privately financed infrastructure project, the expansion of Heathrow.”
The airport’s chairman, Lord Deighton, said: “Only Heathrow expansion will allow British exporters to trade with all the growing markets of the world, strengthening Britain’s position as one of the world’s great trading nations.
“By approving Heathrow expansion, the government will send the strongest signal possible that Britain is open for business and confident in its future.”
John Smith, managing director of GB Railfreight, agreed on the need for infrastructure improvement: “There is a large opportunity for rail freight providers with HS2 and with Heathrow, if it goes ahead, and Network Rail will do what it needs to do.”
The UK transports about 800-850m tonnes of freight – both bulk and unitised – on its rail network each year, with infrastructure provider Network Rail being the single largest shipper. Mr Smith estimates that its volumes are 100-150m tonnes per year.
He added “Clearly Brexit is going to have an effect on GDP, so we assume that will hit intermodal deepsea container volumes, which are directly linked to GDP. We wait to see what happens with infrastructure projects although we would clearly like to see them go ahead.”
The Freight Transport Association, meanwhile, has published an “ABC of Brexit” guide, covering all issues pertaining to logistics. But it urging calm, for now.
“The fact is that virtually nothing changes for freight transport operations until the government gives formal notice to leave the EU and the exit negotiations start,” said deputy chief executive James Hookham.
“They will be incredibly complex, and FTA’s job will be to lead for logistics and make sure the government keeps the nation’s supply chains efficient and competitive in whatever deal is agreed.”