Ministers warned not to rush airport plans

That could lead to 50% increase in number of Heathrow flights

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Local councils are warning the Government not to rush through its consultation on plans that could lead to a 50 per cent increase in the number of flights at Heathrow.

The Department for Transport has confirmed that it will be combining a series of proposals for boosting runway capacity in a single document to be launched later this year. The time allowed for the consultation could be as little as three months.

The unprecedented expansion bid will include plans for a new third runway and the introduction of mixed mode operations on existing runways.

Ministers also want to review the Cranford agreement which protects communities at the eastern end of the northern runway from take-off noise and the westerly preference system which means aircraft normally land into the prevailing westerly wind.

Speaking on behalf of the 2M group of local authorities, Cllr Peter Thompson said, "This will be a beast of a consultation. The outcome will have enormous consequences for everyone affected by aircraft noise. If ministers are hoping they can rush through a consultation of this size and complexity in just twelve weeks they should think again.

"There are at least four major proposals in here - each of which will demand full consideration with local people having every opportunity to express their views. It looks to many campaigners as if ministers are going for broke. They are trying to squeeze every last drop of capacity out of Heathrow with little regard for the environmental consequences - and they are hoping to discharge all their obligations to consult in a single document.

"It will not be a fair consultation if these complex issues are skated over or if communities who currently escape aircraft noise - but are likely to be affected by future expansion - are excluded."

A High Court judge ruled in February 2005 following a judicial review of the airports white paper that, when published, the proposals for mixed mode operations - where aircraft use the two runways in parallel for landings and take offs - should be the subject of full consultation.

The third runway proposal will not include information on new flight paths and holding stacks that could potentially extend the noise impact to many new a communities in London and the Home Counties. This will be a separate consultation by National Air Traffic Services (Nats).

Passenger numbers at Heathrow are currently around 68 million a year.
These could rise to 116 million with both Terminal Five and a third runway. The eventual total could reach 151 million if the new runway were used to its full capacity and mixed mode landings and take offs introduced on the two existing runways.

The current annual movements limit at the airport is 480,000. If both runway alternation were ended and a third runway built the number of flights each year at Heathrow could rise to around 720,000..

The 2M Group represents more than 2 million people in areas affected by aircraft noise and includes the London Boroughs of Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth. Authorities outside London include Slough, South Bucks, Spelthorne and Windsor and Maidenhead.

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May 1, 2007