The likelihood of further delay in the lengthy process towards agreeing a new runway for the southeast of England has been disclosed today.
Ministers will not provide a formal response to the Airports Commission on airport expansion until the end of the year, the Financial Times reports.
The Commission’s final report is due to be issued in late June and will recommend either Gatwick or Heathrow as the optimal site for a new runway in the southeast.
The report will pave the way for a political decision on the long-delayed issue.
But one Whitehall official told the newspaper there would be no immediate response beyond a cursory acceptance of the report by senior ministers.
A more detailed reaction would not be issued until “before Christmas”, he said.
The signal of a delay indicates that there is no political consensus on where to build another runway given the huge complications around the two main options.
If ministers wait six months to respond to the Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies (pictured), it will prompt anxiety at the Department for Transport, where officials are keen for a speedier decision.
Civil servants say they need to start work on any proposed legislation and to prepare for legal challenges that are considered almost inevitable, according to the FT.
Business groups have repeatedly called on the government to make up its mind and authorise a runway somewhere close to London to deal with future capacity constraints.
Gavin Hayes, director of pro-expansion group Let Britain Fly, said: "The political procrastination has to stop. Heathrow has already been full for a decade, Gatwick will be full by 2020 and all of London’s airports will be full by the end of the next decade.
“It is therefore obvious that we need additional capacity. Yet it has already taken the best part of three years for a government commission to conclude that London needs one new runway by 2030.
“The urgency of the situation requires the government to grasp the moment and respond to the Airports Commission’s final report in a timely manner and get on and make a swift decision to build a new runway.
“Kicking the can down the road for another year is no longer an option.”
Several cabinet ministers, including Justine Greening, Greg Hands and Philip Hammond, are known to oppose expansion of Heathrow.
There is also opposition from Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond, who declared yesterday that he would run for London mayor next year. Current mayor, Boris Johnson, is also a vocal opponent of a third runway at the west London hub.
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