South-east 'needs three extra runways'

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The Independent Online

The airport operator BAA today called for three new runways to be built in south-east England.

The airport operator BAA today called for three new runways to be built in south-east England.

The Government should confine its expansion in the region to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports, added BAA, which runs each of these airports.

BAA said the Government should look at a short extra runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Gatwick and two extra runways at Stansted.

But whichever combination is decided on, there should be no more than three new runways in the south-east, the company added.

BAA was responding to the Government's consultation paper on aviation capacity in the UK.

BAA's chief executive designate Mike Clasper said: "This is a critical decision for the UK."

He added: "If we do not provide the infrastructure for aviation to grow, we will cause significant damage to our country's international competitiveness.

"Aviation is vital to the growth of internationally–traded services and high–value manufacturing, upon which our economic future depends.

"We cannot have a dynamic aviation industry without a strong airport sector, which plans for long–term growth.

"We can't afford to see in aviation the problems we have today on our railways."

BAA also today submitted its response on the future of aviation in Scotland.

The company said demand for air travel was growing in Scotland, but there was no clarity at present about how this demand would take shape in the medium to long term.

BAA therefore proposed that land was safeguarded at both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports – which the the company runs – to allow for "give flexibility for the future."

Among the environmental issues considered in BAA's submission were land take, noise and air pollution.

BAA said that its approach to responsible airport development was based upon the Government's own four principles for sustainable development.

Mr Clasper added: "By responsible growth, we mean an approach which balances economic, social and environmental concerns and which respects absolute environmental capacity limits, where these have been clearly established, as is the case with climate change.

"We are committed to working with the Government and with our local communities to understand fully the detailed issues surrounding air pollution and noise disturbance and to work with all stakeholders to control, mitigate or compensate for these impacts."

BAA said the plan for a £9 billion new airport at Cliffe in north Kent "would not be regarded as a candidate" for inclusion in the Government's final scheme for expansion.

The company said it seriously doubted whether Cliffe could be commercially viable without very considerable public subsidy and the plan also raised "serious environmental concerns".

BAA said there should be a short, 2,000–metre runway at Heathrow and this would be "financially viable and fundable".

The company also said it believed that the Government had overestimated in reckoning that up to 35,000 people could be affected by nitrogen dioxide levels above accepted European limits if a third runway was built at Heathrow.

The Heathrow–based pressure group Hacan ClearSkies forecast last week that BAA would be challenging the Government figure and has accused the company of "moving the goalposts".

BAA said today that a single additional runway at Gatwick would be financially viable. Such a move could present difficulties as there is a legally–binding agreement signed in 1979 between the then British Airports Authority and West Sussex County Council not to construct a second runway at Gatwick before 2019.

On Stansted, BAA said one new runway would be financially viable and a second runway could be viable but an appraisal could best be carried out following the investment in the first runway.

The Government has forecast that demand for air travel in south east England will grow from 117 million passengers a year in 2000 to around 200 million in 2015 and 300 million in 2030.

BAA said today: "No one can be certain about such forecasts, but we have concluded that the Government's figures are a sound basis for policymaking."

BAA added that while regional airports outside the South East were expected to grow faster than airports in London and the South East, they had "only a very limited ability to contribute to meeting the forecast demand for air travel in the London area".

Mike Clasper, who is shortly to take over as chief executive at BAA, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we are saying is that the country does need up to three new runways in the south east of England and that the Government needs to choose from a shortlist of four, which does include Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

"It needs to choose the first one so that we can get on with the long process of getting that in place, then safeguard land for a further two runways.

"Aviation growth is critical to the national economy. More and more people want to fly. It has become part of the public transport system.

"Unless we start planning, we will end up with the gridlock and decline that we have got on the railways. We do need to expand, but of course we need to do that in an appropriately responsible way."

Norman Mead, of the Stop Stansted Expansion group, said that further growth at the Essex airport would be unacceptable.

He told Today: "It would be totally disastrous for this area, from the point of view of people who have to live here, their quality of life, and for its impact on the national heritage.

"If the Government are hell–bent on new runways, they must look at the least worst options, which may be in the Thames estuary and Severn estuary."

But Mr Clasper said: "Around Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick is a strong infrastructure to support the airports. If we were to go into one of these new sites, we would have to start afresh and build dramatically more infrastructure than would be needed by expanding one of the existing sites."