The promise of a wealth of new work at Heathrow is good news for construction – but it won't save the industry in the short term
Potentially huge opportunities right across the construction industry will doubtless follow the government's approval of a third runway at Heathrow, together with the road and rail links needed to support it.
The government estimates that 60,000 jobs could be created in constructing the runway alone, and many more supply chain jobs will be generated throughout the country to provide the equipment and materials needed for the project.
An estimated 60,000 jobs could be created in constructing the runway alone, but building work is unlikely to start for many years
But this news isn't going to pull the construction industry overnight out of the crisis it is facing. Building work on the runway is unlikely to start for many years – and that's even without allowing for delays that may result from the planning and legal hurdles the project will have to overcome.
So, although it will bring massive future opportunities, the project does not help solve the industry's immediate and pressing concerns. The most urgent of these is the increasing difficulty that UK firms are facing in accessing the working capital they need to run their businesses from day to day - particularly for small and medium-sized firms. They are also having to cope with the sudden and unexpected withdrawal of trade credit insurance - sometimes midway through a contract.
We face an risk that the skills needed to deliver essential infrastructure over the next decade will be lost during the recession
Meanwhile, the housing market is suffering from the effects of the credit squeeze on purchasers, particularly first-time buyers, who are unable to access mortgages at affordable loan-to-value ratios.
Construction firms have already laid off more than 100,000 staff, and as a nation we face an increasing risk that the skills needed to deliver projects like Heathrow's third runway and other essential infrastructure over the next decade will be lost during the recession.
Nobody is arguing that we should go back to the days of unsustainable borrowing, but the government's bold steps to kick-start lending across the economy are the essential precursors for economic stability. If these measures are fully implemented, they should get the credit markets working again and help stem the loss of skilled jobs in the construction industry. Without these skills, we will be unable to deliver the infrastructure on which our economy and prosperity depends.
John McDonough is chairman of the CBI's Construction Council