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Britain due to decide on new London runway amid political chaos

[LONDON] Britain is set to fall down the European league table for hub airports, the boss of Heathrow said on Tuesday, as he urged the government to back a third runway to protect trade links and send the message that Britain remains open for business.

The British government said on Monday it would announce in weeks whether it backed the expansion of Heathrow or Gatwick, but fears are growing that the long-awaited investment decision could become a victim of the political chaos that has been thrown up by the vote to leave the European Union.

"Now more than ever, Britain needs to underpin its globally recognised economic strength by delivering privately funded infrastructure projects like a third runway," Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye told a London conference. "The future economic security of this country depends on Britain being an outward-looking trading nation."

Prime Minister David Cameron's government has taken four years to decide where to build a new runway, with Heathrow seen as the front-runner over rival Gatwick.

But Mr Cameron is now set to resign by October, and the former London mayor Boris Johnson, the favourite to succeed him, has opposed expansion at Heathrow and once said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers to stop a third runway being built there.

Heathrow, located close to densely populated west London, is the largest hub airport in Europe and Britain's busiest, but Holland-Kaye cited research showing that it would soon be overtaken by France by around 2020.

It will then fall behind Istanbul, Frankfurt and Amsterdam in terms of the busiest hub.

Past attempts to expand Heathrow have been hampered by local opposition, due to worries about increased noise and air pollution.

The chief executive of Gatwick, located south of the city in a less populated area, is due to say in a speech to the same conference that Brexit has strengthened his argument that it would be easier and more effective to build the runway there.

"It is now clearer than ever that only Gatwick can deliver the new runway Britain needs," Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate will say on Tuesday, according to extracts of the speech provided by the airport to media. "In these uncertain times that means Gatwick can give the country certainty of delivery. Britain cannot afford yet more delay."

On Monday, 50 business leaders including the CEOs of broker ICAP, real estate company Land Securities and insurer Legal & General published a letter in the Times saying the Brexit vote made the need for a new runway more pressing given that Britain would need to increase trade with economies beyond the EU.



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