Runway capacity is now a political faultline between the UK’s two ruling political parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party.
At its party conference last week in Glasgow (UK), the Liberal Democrats’ members voted to continue the policy of opposing more runways for the UK. The party’s leader, Nick Clegg, had proposed that the policy is changed. In the previous week, the Conservative party’s leadership had announced they are in favour of additional runways. The Conservative and Liberal parties formed a coalition government in 2010 after that year’s general election.
The three largest UK political parties have their own conferences in September and early October every year to decide policy. The next UK general election wil be in May 2015 which means the conferences’ policy decisions this year are electorally important.
On 29 September, the UK finance minister, Chancellor George Osborne, said in his speech to Conference: ‘This country has spent forty years failing to take a decision about building a new runway in the South East of England. There are always one hundred reasons to stick with the past, but we need to choose the future.’
Osborne’s comments were welcomed by the pro-runway campaign group Let Britain Fly. The campaign has called on all political parties to support the recommendations of the coalition government’s Airports Commission. Formed in November 2012, the Commission will report after the general election on how the UK should expand its runway capacity. Its interim report, published in December last year, stated that the UK needed one extra runway by 2030.
The Liberal Democrat vote has brought criticism from the UK business trade body, the CBI. The CBI’s director general, John Cridland, says: “Growing airport capacity in the South East is critical to the UK’s economic future. Business will be extremely disappointed that the Liberal Democrat delegates fail to recognise this.”
In reference to the Commission, Cridland says of the Liberal policy decision; “It is unhelpful to pre-judge the decision of the Airports Commission, which the Liberal Democrats helped to set up. All parties must endorse the Commission’s final recommendation when it reports back next summer.”