The government really doesn't want to make a decision about whether or not to expand Heathrow Airport, does it? The Airports Commission said, back in July, that a third runway at Heathrow was its recommended option and the government promised to respond by the end of the year. On Thursday, it kicked the decision into summer 2016 in order to do more research into environmental impacts.
The delay has been condemned by virtually everyone. Business leaders aren't happy: London First called it a "failure of political leadership" and the CBI said it was "deeply disappointing". Green MP Caroline Lucas said
The evidence against expansion at Heathrow is already clear cut — and delay is unacceptable when a rejection is what’s needed. Expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick would be bad news for local residents who will suffer enormously from increasing noise and air pollution.
Boris Johnson, who's been campaigning for an entirely new hub airport, called it a "fudgerama" on Channel 4 News, before fudging his own answer to a question of whether or not he'd serve in a cabinet that backed Heathrow expansion. (The answer's probably 'yes', then.)
A second runway at Gatwick is a possibility, albeit not one that's so far been considered likely. However, Gatwick supporters are seizing on what's seen as government flapping / concerns over air pollution levels that already breach legal limits (take your pick, depending where you stand on the argument) to push their side. Labour's candidate to succeed Johnson, Sadiq Khan, said
The government is kicking the decision into the long grass to avoid embarrassing their mayoral candidate. We can’t afford more dithering over aviation capacity. Businesses desperately need more airport capacity around London, and the Tories are letting them down. Gatwick stands ready to deliver it sooner, at a lower public expense and without the damaging impact of Heathrow expansion.
Embarrassing their mayoral candidate? Ah yes — this isn't an unreasonable accusation. Zac Goldsmith, standing for the Conservatives in May, is such a vehement opponent of Heathrow expansion that he says he'll resign as an MP if plans go forward. Any government decision will now happen after the mayoral election. There's no word from the Goldsmith camp on what would happen if the third runway goes ahead and he's mayor, but Goldsmith seems convinced he won't need to make that call:
I am absolutely delighted that, after much campaigning, the government has heard the arguments, seen sense and will judge the options against an environmental test. We know that any airport expansion must meet our legally binding carbon, noise and air quality limits. There can be no doubt that in a fair contest on air quality, Heathrow will not win. That is good news for London.
To delve deeper into the history of London's airports and airport expansion, we recommend this droll video.