Speculation grows on third runway approval

Leaked reports are suggesting that the decision to expand Heathrow has already been made

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has decided to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow, according to stories in this weekend's national press.

Unpopular announcements are often preceeded by carefully placed leaks from 'informed sources' and it appears that the residents and businesses of West London are being encouraged to believe that airport expansion at Heathrow is inevitable.

The Independent on Sunday reports that 'one campaigner' was certain that Heathrow would be the first of London's airports to see expansion. "That is the hot favourite," said the anonymous activist. He said BAA, which owns Heathrow, was already pushing hard to win local support from local councils that are hostile to the plan.

Pressure for a new runway has come from BAA, major airlines and trades unions, who see airport expansion as a source of new jobs.

A new runway at Heathrow will be followed by a second runway at Stanstead. A new runway will then be built at Stanstead, but not until after 2019, following an agreement between the government and Gatwick's local authority.

Plans to build a new airport at Cliffe, in north Kent, have been abandoned, according to further leaks.

Calling on the Government to confirm that no final decision had been taken, Cllr Edward Lister , leader of Wandworth Council said the suspicion must be that the leak was part of a campaign to soften up public opinion. He said, "To many environmentalists it will look like a deliberate ploy to lower expectations. In the end it may not be as many as three new runways - but you can be sure one of them will be the real prize - Heathrow. The council is opposed to a third runway at Heathrow. It believes that the economic benefits of expansion have been overstated while local residents will have to endure the extra noise that will go with the additional flights."

He commented that the Department of Transport appeared to be committed to aviation growth despite warnings from an all-party committee of MPs that international targets for curbing carbon dioxide emissions would not be met if it makes no effort to manage the forecast growth.

The government believes that more runway capacity in the southeast is essential to maintain the region�s position as an international hub competing with Amsterdam and Paris.

Residents� groups said they would demand public inquiries if the new runways were approved. �There will be so much anger in and around Heathrow that there is no doubt that the protest will continue and intensify,� said John Stewart, chairman of HACAN ClearSkies, a Heathrow-based pressure group.

August 19, 2003

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