UK Politics

Boris Johnson warns of 'risk of inertia' over Heathrow future

Boris Johnson speaking at City Hall
Image caption Mr Johnson said a new airport was affordable and would create thousands of new jobs

Boris Johnson has called for the debate over Heathrow's future and alternative airport capacity in southern England to be decided by the end of next year.

The mayor of London said rivals were "forging ahead" while the UK was deliberating and he described a review due to report in 2015 as "glacial".

"There is no reason to go on for three years discussing this," he said.

Some ministers had been "bewitched" by airlines and others lobbying for a new Heathrow runway, he added.

In a speech to business leaders in London, Mr Johnson restated his call for a new airport to be built in the Thames Estuary - which he said could be operational by 2030.

'Political disaster'

He urged ministers to rule out a new runway at Heathrow, saying it would be full up by the time it opened in 2026 at the earliest.

The intervention comes days before the start of the Conservative Party conference, during which Mr Johnson will be one of the most closely-watched figures after recent media comment suggesting he might be an alternative to Mr Cameron as party leader.

The mayor and the prime minister met at Mr Cameron's country residence Chequers over the weekend, holding what were described as "wide-ranging" talks.

The coalition government has ruled out further expansion at Heathrow during the current Parliament but many Conservative MPs want ministers to think again as part of a wider review of the future of UK airports.

Prime Minister David Cameron has asked economist Sir Howard Davies to examine future capacity options. Although he will report interim findings next year, his full report is not due before the next election - due in 2015.

The mayor of London said there was "no easy solution" but the UK was already being left behind by its European competitors and it was imperative that the issue was decided much sooner.

"The risk of inertia is huge," he said. "But there is a huge prize if we can get on with it now."

While praising Sir Howard's appointment, he said he would have preferred ministers to make the decision themselves: "We are about to embark on a miserable and protracted battle to impose on the people of London an environmental and political disaster that will be obsolete as soon as it is complete."

Mr Johnson said there was a political consensus among the three largest parties in London against expanding Heathrow.

Any attempt to change that, he added, would be tantamount to "tiptoeing back towards an electrical fence that will electrocute politically anyone who tries to touch it".

He added: "I have got two messages, it is very simple. My message is, number one, forget about a new runway at Heathrow. Number two, look at the viable alternatives."

The mayor has long argued that building a third runway at Heathrow would be environmentally unsustainable and a "bolder" long-term solution is required.

Publishing his submission to the government's strategy review, he said he believed there were three potential options: building a brand new airport to the east of London on two potential sites and upgrading Stansted.

Mr Johnson believes a new airport will cost £80bn and can be up and running in 2030 - between two and four years later than a new runway at Heathrow would come on stream. He said it could be funded but needed "political will".

Leading airlines and much of the business community argue the UK is losing out to other destinations and believe a new runway at Heathrow is the only option to maintain the airport's global "hub status" and boost the economy.

More on this story