Stansted campaigners warn Blair over runway expansion

Campaigners lobbying to prevent the construction of a new runway at Stansted hit out yesterday at the disclosure that the Essex airport is the site favoured by Tony Blair.

Stop Stansted Expansion warned the Prime Minister that he would have a huge fight on his hands if he attempted to foist a new runway onto residents living near the airport.

The lobby group also saida second runway would not be economically viable because Stansted only survived at present with cross subsidies from BAA's two other London airports - Heathrow and Gatwick.

The angry reaction came as it emerged that the Government's decision on where to build new runway capacity could be delayed from its December deadline because of Cabinet in-fighting. The Chancellor Gordon Brown is strongly in favour on economic grounds of a third runway at Heathrow. But the Stansted option is supported by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett, as well as the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

Supporters of the Stansted option say it would be less damaging to the environment and would affect far fewer Labour constituencies because of the airport's remote location in open countryside.

But Carol Barbone, campaign director of Stop Stansted Expansion, said: "Putting party politics ahead of what is right for this country merits our utter contempt and quite possibly the contempt of the courts.

"If the Prime Minister thinks he is going to have an easy ride by forcing his views on the people of this region, he'll be taking on more than he bargained for."

The campaigners also released a report by an economist, Professor David Starkie, which they claimed cast serious doubt on the feasibility of adding extra runways at Stansted. The report claimed extra runways would not be commercially viable unless it was cross-subsidised.

Professor Starkie also said Stansted's financial performance had been "astonishingly bad" since its last major expansion in the early 1990s, which has lifted passenger numbers to 17 million a year.

BAA rejected the claims, saying Stansted had broken into profit six years after opening and made a £43m profit last year. A spokeswoman said it was also at the point where it could cover its own cost of capital and would very soon be in a position to be self-financing.

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