We’re used to the Government delaying decisions so it’s probably too much to expect George Osborne to use the Budget to announce that a decision has finally been taken to expand Heathrow.
With the London Mayoral election and the EU referendum still to come, the Government has held back from giving the green light to a new Heathrow runway, despite the long-term economic cost.
However, the budget will still be required viewing for anyone who cares about an expanded Heathrow’s capacity to create jobs and stimulate economic growth, both locally and nationally.
The Chancellor has made much of his ambition to build a Northern Powerhouse but that ambition is yet to be realised. At its heart, the Northern Powerhouse is about building vital infrastructure to create jobs and improve transport links to different areas of the country – sound familiar?
There is enormous support for Heathrow expansion from MPs across the country including in the North of England because, as the Northern Group of Labour MPs wrote last year: “Expansion at Heathrow is the best way for the whole of the UK to capitalise on having a successful hub airport, and to ensure that capacity remains at Heathrow to connect the North East to the rest of the world”.
From his “march of the makers” speech to “we are the builders”, George Osborne talks about the importance of national infrastructure projects and how they can leave a legacy for future generations, but his rhetoric doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. If it did, he would be using the budget to update us on the planning application for a new runway at Heathrow and how the additional jobs and export opportunities would massively boost the Treasury’s coffers.
Even the Chancellor's National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), a body set up to take the ‘politics’ out of long-term decisions, was modelled on the Airports Commission which unambiguously recommended expanding Heathrow. If the Government fails to back Heathrow expansion, what’s the point of the NIC?
The economic arguments in favour of Heathrow expansion are clear. From the 10,000 apprenticeships that will be created locally to the 180,000 jobs that will be created nationally. A new runway at Heathrow will increase exports and help the whole country access new emerging markets, with the benefits worth £147 billion.
The political omens are still good. Heathrow expansion has strong cross-party support from MPs, George Osborne himself said at last year's CBI annual dinner that “when we get Howard Davies report on a new runway in south east, we are going to take the decision and get it built” and the new chairman of Heathrow, Lord Deighton, made the London Olympics happen before becoming responsible for the UK’s national infrastructure plan. These are all reasons to be optimistic that a decision to grow Heathrow will soon be taken.
The argument for Heathrow has been made and the facts in favour of expansion speak for themselves. If the Government is serious about delivering on election promises of “building a long term economic plan” and “backing working people in the UK” then it must deliver a new runway at the UK’s hub airport.
Approval of Heathrow expansion would have been great value in Budget week but it must come soon to avoid further expensive delays.