BAA denies lying to Terminal Five inquiry

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The Independent Online

The airports operator BAA was accused yesterday of lying to a public inquiry about its plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

The airports operator BAA was accused yesterday of lying to a public inquiry about its plans for a third runway at Heathrow.

Senior managers at BAA called for expansion at the west London airport, despite telling an official hearing into the construction of a fifth terminal two years ago that it opposed such a project. In its submission to the inquiry in favour of the new terminal, BAA assured environmentalists and residents it did not envisage a new runway.

But in a submission to the Government yesterday, BAA argued in favour of a third short landing strip at Heathrow, a second runway at Gatwick and two extra runways at Stansted. All three airports are owned by BAA.

And the company argued against the construction of a £9bn airport at Cliffe on the Thames estuary in Kent on commercial and environmental grounds.Whether BAA would be asked to operate the new complex is doubtful, because that would give it an effective monopoly of Britain's international airports.

Anti-expansion campaigners accused BAA of "the mother of all U-turns" over Heathrow and declared that the company was "untrustworthy and reckless". But the airports operator said Britain's international competitiveness would be "severely damaged" unless airports expanded. The Government is expected to make the final decision this year.

Jim Bailey, who represents 70 local authorities campaign-ing for a new international airport, said: "It all shows how dishonest BAA were at the Terminal Five inquiry. They lied about their intentions to support the construction of a third runway." He said there was no reason for the company to change its about capacity because air travel had declined in the interim.

Roy Vandermeer QC completed his inquiry into the fifth terminal in 2000. He said in his report: "BAA attempted to assuage these concerns [of increased pressure to increase Heathrow's capacity further] by accepting that the construction of a further runway was not a practical proposition and indeed not the right thing to do because of its environmental disadvantages. They argued that all the evidence to the inquiry pointed firmly against a further runway at Heathrow and invited me to recommend this to the Secretary of State."

A BAA spokeswoman denied it had lied, saying terminal five still did not need another runway. She said BAA had been asked by the Government to look 30 years ahead. "If the Government needs new capacity, a third runway at Heathrow is feasible."

The Government has said building a third Heathrow terminal could expose up to 35,000 people to nitrogen dioxide levels above accepted European limits. BAA said as few as 4,000 could be affected.