Brexit Blocks Heathrow Runway Plan as Verdict Delayed for New PM

  • Growth ruling won’t come until October at least: McLoughlin
  • Deferral provides boost for competing Gatwick option

A verdict on the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport won’t be reached until after Britain gets a new prime minister as politicians focus on the fallout from last week’s vote to leave the European Union.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said Thursday that while he had hoped to announce a decision on airport capacity this summer, the decision to quit the EU had made that impracticable, especially since the House of Commons is due to begin a 6 1/2-week recess on July 21.

“Clearly any announcement on airport capacity would have to be made when the House is in session and being realistic, given recent events, I cannot now foresee an announcement until at least October,” McLoughlin said in answer to parliamentary transport questions. Cameron will stand down by early September, after which his ruling Conservatives will elect a new leader who will become the country’s next prime minister.

Air Quality

Politicians remain split on where to add extra flight capacity even after a state Airports Commission came out in favor of expanding Heathrow, which is located in a more urban area than rival candidate Gatwick and is therefore a focus of greater concern about emissions and noise pollution.

A report on the likely impact of a new runway on air quality at Heathrow, which was ordered when a decision on the hub’s growth plan was last delayed in December, is due “soon,” while the government is also looking at boosting compensation for residents affected, McLoughlin said.

The delay had appeared to raise the possibility of a decision on the runway falling to Boris Johnson, a leader of the campaign to leave the EU and one-time favorite to succeed David Cameron who has long favored the construction of a new airport in the Thames estuary over expanding Heathrow or Gatwick.

That prospect disappeared when former London Mayor Johnson declared later Thursday that he won’t seek to succeed Cameron, leaving Conservative lawmakers Theresa May and Michael Gove as the leading candidates.

‘Open for Business’

Heathrow Ltd. Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said in response to the latest delay that the U.K.’s decision to leave the trading bloc should make the resolution of London’s airport logjam even more of a priority.

“If Britain wants to be confident, outward-looking and at the center of the world’s economy, then expanding Heathrow must be a key building block in the government’s Brexit plan,” he said, adding that building the third runway would “send the strongest possible signal that Britain is open for business.”

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said in a statement that “the time has come for Britain to get on with it,” adding that his airport has the advantage of being able to privately finance its expansio.

The expansion of London City Airport, blocked by Johnson when he was mayor, is the responsibility of his successor, Sadiq Khan, and could expect to gain government backing once escalated to Parliament, McLoughlin said.

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