Bigger Heathrow backed by Darling

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Alistair Darling will throw his weight behind a campaign for the controversial development of a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow airport.

The Secretary of State for Transport will back Future Heathrow, a powerful coalition of airlines, trade unions and the CBI to be launched tomorrow. The group will argue that Britain's economic growth will be constrained if the London airport is not expanded.

Mr Darling's support will anger environmentalists, who are planning to mobilise against further development at Heath- row in the coming months.

Mr Darling said last year that expansion could take place after 2013 only if the airport met tough pollution targets. His backing for the campaign will be interpreted by the green lobby as a softening of this stance.

The group will be run by Lord Soley, the former chairman of Labour's parliamentary party, who will be paid £27,900 for the part-time role. "For the past four years, Heathrow has been losing out to continental European airports," he said. "The aim of Future Heathrow is to persuade not just the Government but business and residential groups that the one thing Heathrow can't do is stand still. It can either expand or decline."

He added: "It is interesting to note that Amsterdam is looking to overtake Heathrow. One pertinent fact is that you can fly to nine British cities from Heathrow, while Amsterdam goes to 21."

Future Heathrow's main backers include British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and BMI. BAA, Heathrow's owner, is not one of its backers. But Mike Clasper, BAA's chief executive, said: "We are going to be at the launch. What they are talking about is important to the economy of the UK as a whole."

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