labels: News reports, Government / regulatory
Green signal for Heathrow runway news
15 January 2009

Ending days of speculation, the UK government has given BAA Ltd the go-ahead to add the controversial third runway at London's Heathrow airport, overriding objections from environmental campaigners and residents.

The runway will allow BAA to raise the number of takeoffs and landings at the airport by 46 per cent to 700,000 a year from its present maximum of 480,000. The decision is a boon for BAA, which is likely to be forced to sell its two other London airports under pressure from UK antitrust regulators.

"Heathrow airport supports over 100,000 jobs," transport secretary Geoff Hoon said in a statement to Parliament in London. "The government remains convinced that additional capacity is critical."

Environmental campaigners and people who live near the airport say the expansion would increase noise and pollution. Thousands of campaigners have bought land on the site of the proposed runway to complicate compulsory purchase orders. Greenpeace, the environmental group spearheading the protests, vowed that it would not give up the struggle.

The announcement of approval was made in an angry session in Parliament. John McDonnell, the Labour member whose electoral district includes Heathrow, was banned from the Commons for five days after he interrupted the debate, shouting "disgrace" and snatching the gold mace that sits before the speaker's chair. The runway proposal has split the ruling Labour Party, as 50 of its 350 lawmakers signed a motion opposing the plan.

Hoon is siding with airlines that include British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which argue that hiking the capacity at Heathrow is essential to support economic growth and prevent Britain from falling behind other European nations. He expects the new runway to begin operating between 2015 and 2020.

He added that the government has decided not to allow the airport to operate on a mixed mode basis, which uses runways for a mix or arrivals and departures, disappointing BAA and airlines a little.

BAA, controlled by Spanish builder Grupo Ferrovial SA, estimates that the use of mixed mode would boost capacity by about 10 per cent. British Airways has also expressed its disappointment.

With the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties both opposed to the project, there is speculation that the decision may be looked at again after the next general election, due by June 2010.

Heathrow, located 24 km west of London, handles 67 million passengers a year, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. The two runways at Heathrow operate at 99 per cent of government-allowed capacity. More capacity is expected to sharpen competition. Amsterdam's Schipol Airport has five runways, and Charles de Gaulle in Paris has four.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative, has hinted that he may launch a legal challenge. He called the plan "deeply undemocratic" because lawmakers were denied an opportunity to vote.

Unite union representative Derek Simpson welcomed the runway announcement on behalf of his union members, many of whom work at Heathrow. He said it was "the best decision, taken in the best interests of this country.

He added: "There are 172,000 people and their families who depend on Heathrow for their livelihoods.

"There are also thousands more workers in other UK airports who need Heathrow to thrive so that their airport thrives, who will breathe a sigh of relief now that this decision has been made."

Predictably, Greenpeace representatives trashed the decision with Greenpeace executive director John Sauven, saying the movement against the third runway was "huge and growing".

He added: "If Gordon Brown thinks this is a green runway then he must be colour-blind.

"This package is designed to patch up a cabinet split and will do very little to reduce the huge environmental impact of an expanded Heathrow, which will now become the single biggest emitter of carbon-dioxide in the country."

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Green signal for Heathrow runway