A commission to be headed by former CBI director general is being set up to explore all avenues that may not yet have already been explored within the Department of Transport.
Those familiar with the TV satire Yes Minister will be very familiar with the ploy for kicking difficult decisions into the long grass.
Whatever decision is reached – do nothing, build a costly third runway at Heathrow or build a hugely costly new airport to the east of London somewhere – will be fiercely controversial. If it comes down on the side of a third runway, contrary to a Conservative manifesto promise, the commission will provide cover for a government U-turn. Either way, any final decision can now be delayed beyond the next general election in 2015.
The controversy has come to life since Justine Greening, a staunch opponent of the third runway option, was replaced as transport secretary on Tuesday by Patrick McLoughlin, whose convictions on the issue, if he has any, are less well known.
The CBI, however, representing British business leaders, seemed remarkably relaxed about the government showing any leadership on the matter, and positively welcome the long grass solution. Chief policy director Katja Hall said: “The decision to set up an independent commission to look at how we can increase our aviation capacity is good news, and should lead to a robust and lasting solution. The capacity crunch is already biting for businesses, and a lack of direct links to destinations in growing markets hampers our ability to trade overseas, so this commission should look at all the options.
“Howard Davies is a good choice for the job. The commission will understandably want to take a long, hard look at this, but we cannot afford further delays on such a growth-critical issue.”