Policy paper delayed until summer as business leaders call for review to look at third runway at Heathrow

Business leader have welcomed a perceived softening the government’s opposition to a third runway at Heathrow, as the chancellor indicated that an eagerly awaited policy paper on airport capacity in the south-east would be delayed until summer.

In his budget statement yesterday George Osborne said the government’s much-anticipated aviation policy paper, due to be published by the Department for Transport this month, would not now be published until the “summer”.

The policy paper had been pitched as a “call for evidence” document seeking view on how the UK can best maintain its status as an international aviation hub.

The delay comes after David Cameron said earlier this week that the policy paper would “include an examination of the pros and cons of a new airport in the Thames estuary”.

In his speech the prime minister acknowledged publicly for the first time that the south-east lacked sufficient capacity and 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”. He warned the solution “will be controversial”.

Following the chancellor’s budget statement, John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, said business was “beginning to win the battle for extra capacity in the south-east”.

“Whilst all the focus has been on whether we need a third runway at Heathrow or not, the battle we need to win first is establishing that we cannot run our airports properly without extra capacity. Once we win that argument, it is a locational issue,” he said.

While Ashley Steel, KPMG’s global chair for transport, said “at long last pressure from business and lobby groups appears to be weakening the government’s previous resolve”.

“Finally there is hope for a third runway at Heathrow,” he added.

Paul Sheffield, Kier chief executive, said the government’s policy review must also look at the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow.

He said: “The government needs to sort out its airports policy, so finally going ahead completely with a review of London’s airports - including Heathrow.

“It would be foolish not to consider another runaway at Heathrow - it would just be a glaring omission. But I can’t help feeling though that for these huge infrastructure schemes the only way they will ever appear affordable is if the government is brave enough to put a 50 year plan together rather than a five-year plan because with a five year plan it will never work

“You’ve really got to think about where does the nation want to be in 50 years time and how are we going to get there and I don’t think you’re going to get there with sticking plasters and bandages on what you’ve already got.”