Prime minister says aviation strategy will detail ‘pros and cons’ of new Thames estuary airport

David Cameron has restated the coalition government’s willingness to explore controversial plans to build a new airport for London in the Thames estuary and called for a faster planning system.

In a wide-ranging speech on infrastructure delivered at the Institute of Civil Engineering today, the prime minister said he was “not blind” to the need to increase airport capacity in the south-east.

Cameron insisted the nation needed to retain its status as a “key global hub for air travel … not just a feeder route to bigger airports elsewhere in Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Dubai”, and warned the solution “will be controversial”.

He said that while Gatwick was emerging as a business airport for London as its new owners competed with Heathrow, further work was needed.

“We will need to take decisions for the long-term - and we will be bringing forward options in our aviation strategy which will include an examination of the pros and cons of a new airport in the Thames estuary,” he said.

Earlier, the prime minister bemoaned the nation’s planning system for infrastructure as “much too expensive and unbelievably slow”, describing with exasperation the “almost 20 years” it had taken to get Terminal 5 at Heathrow.

He noted that Beijing Capital Airport had overtaken Heathrow as the world’s second-busiest in 2010, and compared the speed of China’s infrastructure delivery with the Victorian pioneers of rail construction in this country.

“The kind of things we did almost 200 years ago, China does today,” he said.