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Campaigners in court to challenge Heathrow expansion

A coalition of local councils, "green" groups and residents will today mount a legal challenge to Government plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The coalition's lawyers will argue at the High Court in London that the Government's consultation process for Heathrow expansion was fundamentally flawed.

The then transport secretary Geoff Hoon gave the go-ahead for the expansion in January last year, but the Conservatives are opposed to a third runway.

The coalition, which includes six local authorities, Greenpeace and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), will also say the expansion decision is at odds with the UK's overall climate change targets.

The court will also be told that there is no evidence to support the Government's claim that there will be enough public transport to serve the new runway.

If the expansion goes ahead, the village of Sipson, close to the airport, will be lost.

Speaking on behalf of the local councils, Hillingdon Council leader Ray Puddifoot said: "We've had no choice but to go to court to sort out the mess left behind by a decision that was little more than a quick fix.

"From the moment Geoff Hoon announced his decision to the House it has steadily unravelled."

CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: "Proceeding with the third runway would destroy not just a village and a large swathe of Green Belt but also tranquillity over a much wider area.

"Countryside, parks and gardens in and beyond north and west London would fall under the shadow of new flight paths and the din of thousands of extra flights."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: "It's been clear from the start that there has been huge opposition to this runway.

"Nearly 90% of the people who responded to the consultation opposed the expansion of Heathrow. Yet mysteriously the Government gave the go-ahead.

"This gives a clear demonstration of how little they value the views of the public. Now we've got the chance to submit this process to legal scrutiny. We don't expect the courts to be any more impressed with it than we were."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The Department stands fully behind the decisions on Heathrow announced last year and will be defending them robustly in court.

"As matters are currently subject to legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate to comment further."

Labour peer Lord Soley, the campaign director for pro-runway group Future Heathrow, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Frankly, people are not going to stop flying. We need to be realistic about that."

London will need an international hub airport in the future and its choice was whether it should be at Heathrow or elsewhere - perhaps in the Thames Estuary - he said.

"If it is at Heathrow, you need a third runway," said Lord Soley. "If it's not going to be at Heathrow then you don't need another international airport and Heathrow, so you would close it. The implications for west London would be catastrophic."

Lord Soley described today's court challenge as "a waste of council tax payers' money".

"There is already legislation which says that if the airport doesn't meet the pollution standards - including noise - then they have to reduce the use of the runway until they come into that level," he said.

"My conviction is that they will reach it anyway but, even if they didn't, then in that case the runway can't be used to its full extent."