Difficult decisions on airports still remain

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The Independent Online

The decision to proceed with terminal five at Heathrow may bring one long-winded chapter to a close, but it is by no means the end of the story. Ministers have been sitting on the highly sensitive Vandermeer report into the construction of the terminal for almost a year but there are other equally difficult decisions to take.

The decision to proceed with terminal five at Heathrow may bring one long-winded chapter to a close, but it is by no means the end of the story. Ministers have been sitting on the highly sensitive Vandermeer report into the construction of the terminal for almost a year but there are other equally difficult decisions to take.

Early next year, a series of reports will be published on airport capacity throughout Britain, with substantial increases proposed for the South-east, the site of most of the marginal Westminster constituencies. The in-depth official reports, drawn up by local authorities and business groups, will examine how airlines might be encouraged to switch from Heathrow to other airports serving London or the regions.

The most controversial part of the exercise will be the investigation into potential development in the South-east, where the most significant increases in capacity will be proposed and where the "key marginal" constituencies are at their most numerous.

Among the possible options are a third runway at Heathrow (for which plans already exist) or additional capacity at Gatwick, Luton, Stansted or even Southampton airports. The most radical proposal is for a new airport, possibly on the Thames estuary. The working group for the South-east is not expected to come to a decision, but simply to set out the options.

Mr Byers will announce a consultation process based on the document and is scheduled to make the final decision in a White Paper setting out aviation policy for the next 30 years which is supposed to be published in a year's time.

However, cynics forecast more procrastination.

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