Massive expansion of Heathrow is being prepared, say government documents

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The Independent Online

The Government is pressing ahead with preparations for a massive expansion of Heathrow airport - ignoring fears over noise and pollution, the demolition of hundreds of homes and the forced removal of thousands of local people.

In a move that environmental groups and local campaigners warn will lead to their most bitter struggle yet with the Government, The Observer is reporting that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is investigating ways to push through proposals for a new, third runway at Heathrow.

In 2003, the Government acknowledged in a White Paper that such an expansion would be extremely problematic, with environmental concerns leading to a delay of up to 15 years. Instead, Stansted airport in Essex became the preferred site for a new runway - a plan that itself would have led to the partial destruction of several villages.

However, Mr Brown is now understood to be refocusing on Heathrow, advocating in his recent pre-Budget report a detailed programme of "modelling work" to "understand the nature" of air quality at the airport. This work, he states in the fine print of the report, "is aimed at identifying solutions that would allow construction of a third runway".

The plans could double passenger numbers at Heathrow from the present 68 million a year.

Campaigners predict a furore if any attempt is made to expand Heathrow. "It will be a huge cause célèbre for the environmental movement," said Tony Bosworth, transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

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