Heathrow and Gatwick square-off to secure new runway

It's decision day - one of London's key airports will be expanding...

After decades of procrastination and delay, the British Government will today make the highly controversial decision of expanding an airport in southeast England.

The UK needs greater airport capacity to increase its trade links with the rest of the world but there has been a long-running disagreement as to where this should take place.

It is widely expected that Heathrow will be the winner but that Gatwick will be allowed to expand at a later date.

Even then, it will be at least another year before a vote by MPs and that leaves plenty of time for legal challenges and opposition.

The decision was repeatedly delayed under David Cameron who once ruled out a third runway at Heathrow with "no ifs, no buts."

In July 2015, after a three-year inquiry, the Davies Commission recommended that option but it was again put back after calls for further environmental studies.

While a third runway is favoured by the official Airports Commission and has the backing of most businesses.

The boss of Brompton, the UK's largest bike manufacturer, which exports 80% of it bikes abroad, is among those who support Heathrow expansion. But he says the critical issue is securing expansion anywhere.

"Augmenting our capacity to fly around the world is important, we have to become more global," Brompton boss Will Butler-Adams said.

"We've just had Brexit, this isn't the time to become more insular. Rather, we need the ability to hop on planes to be able to do business."

When it comes to airport expansion there are three main options on the table: building a third runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Gatwick or creating a so-called Heathrow hub which will extend one of the existing runways.

A third runway at Heathrow is seen as the most likely choice, partly because of the high level of infrastructure already in place. It is already a global aviation hub and handles more cargo than any other UK port.

Nick Platts, the airport's head of cargo, said providing Heathrow with more capacity makes sense.

He added: "Heathrow is the most valuable trading port in the UK and over £100bn worth of trade goes through the airport each year, which is seven times more than places like Gatwick.

"Heathrow is already a UK gateway and, with three-quarters of air cargo coming through the airport, we need to maximise this asset."

However, the option has faced widespread opposition for the high level of costs involved and the impact on noise and air quality. Those against include Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Justine Greening.

By contrast, building a second runway at Gatwick is seen by some as a cheaper and cleaner option.

Norwegian Air spokesman Stuart Buss said Gatwick offers a much better solution.

He said: "The runway debate really lies in the strength of competition.

"If we expand Gatwick then we have two airports in competition with each other and indeed other airports around the UK can then expand on their own terms as well."

Whatever choice the Government makes, it will undoubtedly have huge consequences - for communities, consumers and the economy.

For many UK businesses, after years of debate, it's a decision that cannot come soon enough.