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The UK’s freight community has welcomed a decision by the Airports Commission to reject a proposal to close Heathrow and build a hub airport in the Thames estuary.
The commission, set up by the government to examine the UK’s future airport requirements, has decided on a shortlist of three options: to extend an existing runway at LHR, or build a new runway at either LHR or Gatwick.
Both the Freight Transport Association and British International Freight Association had dismissed the Thames estuary plan, with the FTA throwing its backing behind Heathrow.
BIFA director general, Robert Keen, said: “BIFA’s members hope that today’s decision will allow the commission to focus on the three most appropriate and sustainable solutions in the lead up to its final report in the summer of 2015.
“In the lead up to that final report, BIFA will continue to submit our thoughts to the commission, relative to the constraints imposed by capacity limitations, UK global connectivity, the importance of air freight and the key facilitative role played by the freight forwarder.
“We can only hope that after the general election in May 2015, the welter of evidence as presented will be such that politicians will give the green light and adopt these recommendations in full and finally get things started on an much overdue expansion of UK aviation hub capacity.”
The FTA has pledged to submit further information to the forthcoming Airport Commission consultations, on the importance of the London hub for UK connectivity for importers and exporters.
Airports Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies said: “There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary. The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount. Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90 billion with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60 billion in total.”
However, the main champion of the scheme, London Mayor Boris Johnson, vowed to fight on, calling any decision to add a runway at Heathrow, “political Kryptonite”.
Airlines, however, also welcomed the decision to crop the proposal. Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) chief executive Dale Keller said: “Airlines were never convinced that the Thames Estuary was either affordable or a convenient location for the majority of their customers.
“Since airlines and their passengers will ultimately have to pay for the development costs of the selected expansion site then the business case must stack up in order for the UK to remain globally competitive.”
Meanwhile business group the CBI urged the government to act fast. Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: “The Chancellor has set businesses ambitious targets for increasing the UK’s exports, and there is simply no way of achieving these goals without upping our game in emerging markets.
“Our analysis last year demonstrated that connectivity is the lifeblood of trade, but it also highlighted that the UK is already falling behind, so every day we delay making a decision, makes matters worse.
“First and foremost, UK business wants action. There can be no more excuses – we need to see the Airports Commission deliver a strong case for new capacity and a clear schedule for delivery, and politicians to commit to spades in the ground by the end of the next Parliament.”
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