BAA's 'cut-price' Stansted runway flies into more flak

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The Independent Online

The airport operator BAA has unveiled plans to slash the cost and environmental impact of a second runway at Stansted, but its proposals still met with a hail of criticism from airlines and local objectors.

BAA said yesterday that the amount of land needed for the runway had been reduced by more than a fifth compared with its estimate in 2005, cutting the cost of phase one of the development from £1.7bn to £1.4bn. It also said the revised plan would entail the demolition of fewer homes and listed buildings and would reduce the number of residents affected by noise from 10,000 to 5,800.

But Ryanair and easyJet, the two biggest users of Stansted, both dismissed the revised scheme as too costly while the lobby group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) accused BAA and its new Spanish owner, Ferrovial, of being concerned only with profit at the expense of the "devastating environmental impact" the new runway would have.

When the Government first published proposals for a second runway at the Essex airport, it estimated the cost at £4bn and calculated it would require 700 hectares of land. In December 2005 BAA said the runway could be built for £2.7bn, but yesterday it further reduced the total estimate to £2.67bn and put the land take at 486 hectares - a reduction of almost a third.

The first phase, costing £1.4bn, could be complete in 2015 and would deliver a runway and associated terminal facilities with a capacity of 10 million passengers a year. The second phase would cost an extra £850m and increase passenger numbers by a further 23 million by 2030. This would lift Stansted's total capacity to 68 million - about the same number as Heathrow today.

Stephen Nelson, BAA's chief executive, said the latest proposals would deliver a runway that was "fit for purpose", adding: "It will provide the increased runway capacity that the UK economy needs, good facilities for passengers and value for money for airlines."

But Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, dismissed it as a "gold-plated Taj Mahal", while easyJet's chief executive, Andy Harrison, said it remained "over-engineered and too expensive". The two airlines believe the new runway would require only 200 hectares of land and could be built for less than £1bn.

A BAA spokesman responded that Mr O'Leary was talking "crap". He added: "When did Ryanair last build a runway? They don't know what they are talking about."

Peter Sanders, the chairman of SSE, accused Ferrovial of paying lip service to the environmental consequences of another runway, saying it would more than double Stansted's carbon dioxide emissions from 5 million to 12 million a year. "This is the unacceptable face of capitalism complete with sombrero," he said.

He added that the development was already opposed by all the key councils and the East of England Regional Assembly and would be fiercely resisted by the local community.

BAA plans to submit a formal planning application this summer to Uttlesford District Council. The inquiry itself is expected to start in 2008 and last two years, meaning the inspector would report in 2010. The Secretary of State for the Environment is expected to take a further year to study the report, meaning that construction could begin in 2011.

The new runway would be just over 3km long and under BAA's latest plans would be sited much closer to the existing airport. The airport would operate in "segregated mode", meaning that runways would not be used for take-offs and landings at the same time.

BAA claims its revised plans would cut the number of houses needing to be demolished to 73 and halve the number of country wildlife sites affected to four.

But the SSE reminded BAA that at the last Stansted public inquiry, the inspector, Graham Eyre, concluded that a second runway would be "nothing less than a catastrophe in environmental terms". The lobby group added that BAA was "still trying to play yesterday's game" by building a runway to cater for the growth in cheap flights.