Aviation minister Theresa may defends Heathrow runway policy


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The Independent Online

A new third runway at Heathrow would have a "massive" impact on the quality of lives of residents near the west London airport, aviation minister Theresa Villiers has said.

She stressed the coalition Government had "always been clear" that it did not support a third runway at Heathrow.

Instead, "another solution" to south east England airport capacity was needed, Mrs Villiers said at a transport conference in London.

Her comments come at a time when the Government is under pressure from airlines and businesses to reverse its policy and give the go-ahead to expansion at Heathrow.

At today's conference, Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA which runs Heathrow, produced figures showing that foreign airlines were shunning Heathrow because of capacity constraints at the airport.

Airlines and businesses argue that the UK will lose out to rival European airports if Heathrow is not expanded.

Mrs Villiers said: "The coalition has always been clear that it does not support a third runway at Heathrow. One of its very first acts as a Government was to confirm this.

"Heathrow is unique in Europe in terms of the magnitude of the noise impact it has on densely populated areas.

"The airport accounts for approximately 70% of people in the UK exposed to average noise from airports above 55 decibels.

"More than one in four people exposed to this level of noise around European airports lives near Heathrow."

She went on: "Thousands live on a daily basis with a plane overhead every 90 seconds... not to mention the flights that wake them up at 4.30am.

"The quality-of-life impact of a third runway, with up to 220,000 more flights over London every year, would be massive and there is no technological solution in sight to ensure planes become quiet enough quickly enough to make this burden in any way tolerable.

"So we need another solution... and last year we kicked off the process to decide what that will be with the publication of our scoping document on a sustainable future for aviation."

Mrs Villiers said responses from the scoping document would be taken into account for the two aviation documents the Government was publishing this summer, with a final policy framework being published in spring 2013.

Mrs Villiers said the future of UK airports "must be grounded in reality and based on facts".

She added that London was "arguably the most well-connected city in the world, with its airports providing direct links to around 350 international destinations".

The minister went on: "So while it is true that Heathrow is pretty much full and Gatwick too is approaching capacity... it's simply not the case that London's connectivity is falling off a cliff edge."