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Heathrow growth is finished, insists minister


Heathrow's growth is finished - and the airport faces as a future only as a base for upmarket holiday flights. That was the damning verdict on Europe’s busiest airport at a travel conference in London today.

The Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, conclusively ruled out any prospect of increasing flights at Heathrow: “We don’t think the third runway is the right thing.”

Ms Greening also said that “mixed-mode” would not be considered in the government’s review of airport capacity. This technique, enabling aircraft to land and take off from both Heathrow runways, extracts at least 25 per cent more capacity with no extra building. But it would greatly increase the amount of noise endured by residents beneath the flight path – including those in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, the parliamentary constituency she represents.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow’s owner, BAA, said: “Aviation capacity constraints are damaging the UK economy today when we can least afford it - business connections to fast growing countries like China are being rationed when they should be boosted. None of the options for new capacity is easy but surely the pros and cons of all possible solutions should be carefully considered?”

Most slots at Heathrow are now owned by IAG, the holding company for British Airways, Iberia and BMI. A spokeswoman said: “While the government plans a consultation on airport capacity, it’s pointless to rule out one of the options before it starts.”

The aviation consultant John Strickland said: “The transport secretary’s statement defies credibility for a government which espouses a desire for economic growth and recovery”.

Following the re-election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, the prospect of a new airport in the Thames Estuary has re-emerged. Green campaigners plan a demonstration against the proposed “Boris Island” at City Hall in London this morning. But Daniel Moylan, the deputy chairman of Transport for London, told the Abta Travel Matters event: “We need to get real about the need for a new hub. Heathrow is not a fully fledged hub and never will be.” He said that a Thames Estuary airport could be built within three years, given enough political will. Heathrow would remain open “for high-end leisure”.

Many of the staff for a Thames Estuary airport would be newly recruited from Kent and Essex, rather than moving across from west London.

A DfT spokesman said: "There is cross-party consensus that a third runway at Heathrow is not the answer. The previous government rejected 'mixed mode' in 2007 and this government is also opposed to it for the all-day noise, and expanded noise footprint, that communities would suffer as a result."