Campaigners sue over new runways

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Environmentalists are to mount legal campaigns to extend consultation on airport expansion in a move certain to frustrate plans for new runways in the South.

AirportWatch - an organisation supported by the Aviation Environment Federation, Friends of the Earth and the Council for the Protection of Rural England - is to challenge expansion plans through the courts where possible, even forcing the Government to include "non-runners" in the consultation process.

But the aviation industry is fighting back, with the Freedom to Fly coalitionurging MPs to call on campaigners to drop their threatened legal action.The MPs, the group hopes, will now write to the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, asking for Cliffe in Kent to be "withdrawn from consultation".

John Stewart, the chair of AirportWatch, said last month: "We are exploring legal options. Possibilities include whether the Government consultation is so biased in favour of expansion as to be challengeable in the courts."

Daniel Hodges, Freedom to Fly's director, said yesterday: "Normally, environmentalists go to court to try to block major infrastructure projects, but now we have the bizarre prospect of Friends of the Earth taking action to force Cliffe back on to Alistair Darling's drawing board, in the same way they did with Gatwick. Precipitate legal action could well extend the unnecessary planning blight experienced by residents."