Extra runways for Heathrow and Gatwick rejected

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Full-sized extra runways at Heathrow and Gatwick airports were ruled out by the Government yesterday.

However, Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport, told the House of Commons that ways of increasing the number of flights at both airports should be considered by a new environmental study.

At Gatwick, where there is a long-standing commitment not to build a fully separate extra runway, he said that aviation authorities should examine the feasibility of building a close parallel runway that would allow an increase in flights, though not as many as a complete new runway. A similar plan at Manchester airport is the subject of a public inquiry.

At Heathrow, Dr Mawhinney said increasing the capacity of the two runways by ending the system where one is used for landings and the other for take-offs should be considered. Allowing landings and take-offs on each runway would allow an increase from 78movements an hour to 90. But since landings are much noisier, such a change will be strongly resisted.

John Boulton, chairman of Hacan, the local anti-noise group, said: "Having no third runway at Heathrow will be greeted with a good deal of relief in this area but if the price of the Government's ducking a decision on runway capacity is greater use beingmade of Heathrow's existing runways, then we shall fight it tooth and nail."

Dr Mawhinney said the study into expansion at Gatwick and Heathrow would take two to three years, in effect postponing a controversial issue. BAA, which owns Heathrow, has ruled out building a third runway there because it would mean demolishing 3,300 homes.

Dr Mawhinney said the Government had decided that although the earlier report by the Department of Transport's working group on runway capacity [Rucatse] in 1993 had shown a strong case for additional runway capacity in the South-east, the report's options for a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick "should not be considered further".

He went on: "Any future development must take account of environmental impacts. More work is needed to inform decisions on any proposals which operators may bring forward for additional capacity."

Since the Rucatse report, three important new considerations had emerged, said Dr Mawhinney: t The possibility of less damaging options for development.

t The importance of surface access to airports, including the scope for improved public transport links.

t the publication of another report, the Runway Capacity Enhancement Study, which suggests that there is greater scope for increasing the use of Heathrow's existing runways.

Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, said it was "a vague and woolly report that offered no solutions to the growing airport crisis in the South-east". He agreed there should be no new full runways at the two airports but said that the problem of managing demand had to be addressed. "If the number of passengers in the South-east keeps on going up by 7 per cent each year as it has in the past two years, it will be unsustainable. Other ways of coping such as increased use of regional airports and better interchange between rail and air will have to be considered."

David Hopkins, chairman of the British Air Transport association, said: "We cannot delay in getting new capacity around Gatwick and Heathrow." By the turn of the century there would be an overspill of 20 million passengers in the South-east, he said.