Sunday, December 10, 2006


They LOATHE air travel -- except for themselves of course

A big expansion of Heathrow, including a new runway, will be endorsed by the Government next week after a decision by ministers that the economic benefits vastly outweigh the environmental damage.

BAA, which owns Heathrow, is secretly developing a pollution charging scheme targeted at lorries to overcome the problem of poor air quality around the airport in West London. An internal BAA document states that the best way to resolve the problem of nitrogen dioxide pollution is to reduce the number of older, more polluting lorries passing the airport on the M4 and nearby roads. Lorries emit about 15 times more nitrogen dioxide than cars. BAA believes lorries could be deterred either by road tolls or by penalties for the most polluting trucks.

The new runway would allow an additional 500 flights a day to pass over London and create a new flight path over Acton, Chiswick and Fulham. Up to 700 homes, including eight Grade II listed buildings, would have to be demolished to make way for the runway and a terminal.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has accepted the argument put by Sir Rod Eddington in his report last week on the future of Britain’s transport system, that expansion of Heathrow is crucial to the economy and to maintaining London’s position as Europe’s financial centre. This week’s Pre-Budget Report said: “To avoid the economic consequences of constraining aviation growth, further expansion of UK airport capacity is needed. Heathrow plays a unique role in the UK as a hub airport and demand for capacity already significantly exceeds supply, leading to less competition, greater congestion, reduced choice and higher prices for passengers.”

The report made no mention of Stansted, which the Government had promised, in its aviation White Paper of December 2003, would receive a new runway before Heathrow. Next week’s progress report on the White Paper will continue to support a second runway at Stansted but the Government no longer believes Heathrow should have to wait for the Essex airport to be expanded. None of the leading airlines support BAA’s plans for a new runway at Stansted. Ferrovial, the Spanish company which recently bought BAA, agrees with British Airways that the priority should be expanding Heathrow because demand for flights is far greater there.

The Department for Transport has been monitoring air pollution levels around Heathrow and is confident they can be reduced to comply with European limits by the time a third runway opens. BAA hopes to submit a planning application for a third runway at Heathrow in 2008 and to open it by 2017. A BAA source said: “We are completely committed to expanding Heathrow.”

Ministers are also keen to allow more take-offs and landings on the existing two runways while the third runway goes through the planning process. A consultation paper will be published in the new year proposing the ending of runway alternation, which gives residents under the flight path respite from aircraft noise for half the day. The two runways could accommodate an extra 60,000 flights a year if each was used for take-offs and landings throughout the day.

John Stewart, chairman of ClearSkies, which opposes the expansion of Heathrow, said: “The Government is gearing up to allow a new runway at Heathrow before Stansted but they won’t be honest about it. “There will be the mother of all battles over Heathrow because the environmental movement sees it as a cause celebre. It will be the Newbury bypass of the skies.” In October 40 people living near Heathrow attended training sessions on direct action techniques. One idea is for a convoy of cars to stop inside the road tunnels under the northern runway, causing chaos for people trying to reach the terminals.


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