A letter signed by the heads of several business groups representing 500,000 companies has urged the prime minister to table a vote on Heathrow expansion.

The correspondence to Theresa May comes from the Confederation of British Industry, British Chambers of Commerce, Institute of Directors, Federation of Small Businesses, EEF – The Manufacturers’ Organisation, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and London First.

It follows a call from trade unions for Parliament to back the third runway option.

The letter points out that it has been 50 years since the Roskill Commission was established to investigate airport expansion in the south-east. It warns that making a decision and moving forward with growing the country’s air capacity is “more urgent than ever” and “crucial to making sure the UK remains an outward-looking trading nation and is well equipped to compete on the world stage”.

It says an expanded Heathrow would make way for connections to new markets and trading opportunities and better links to regional airports across the UK.

The business leaders echo past comments from Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye that other European airports such as Frankfurt, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle are “pulling ahead at the UK’s expense”, with delayed expansion “forcing global investors and trade to go elsewhere in Europe”.

They also point out that the airport is operating at 98 per cent capacity, with export routes “virtually full”, which risks British businesses being denied increased cargo capacity in the future.

The letter closes: “We therefore urge the government to crack on with the vote on Heathrow expansion as soon as possible.”

MPs are due to vote on the third runway plans this summer following a fresh public consultation on new, cost-cutting measures put forward by the airport last December.

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