Baroness Valentine of Putney: We <i>do</i> need a bigger Heathrow

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The Independent Online

London's business leaders do not dismiss the environmental impact of expansion. Neither is support for a third runway unconditional. We understand Heathrow needs to work properly so the UK can work properly. But support for the long-term solution is based on seeing short-term improvements which, if made, will set the right path to a bigger Heathrow.

In the current economic turmoil, we forget at our cost that if the UK is to face down increasingly fierce global competition – if London's access to world markets is to remain one of its unique selling points – the capital will need the best international connections.

The environmental impact of airport expansion, both global and local, cannot be ignored. Properly pricing carbon into the cost of flying is the right way to tackle its global impact. Including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme offers a powerful market response to aviation's carbon footprint. At the local level, we will have to monitor the Government's commitment to no new flights at Heathrow through "mixed mode" until a third runway is built. We will also be watching closely its pledge that an independent environmental watchdog will decide if new flights can be added. If noise and air pollution levels are then breached, regulators will have new powers to remove flights.

Both the environment and the passenger must get a better deal. The Government must be bold in its reforms. The way Heathrow is run and regulated needs a complete overhaul to put passengers first. There should be no new flights until we have a level of performance that compares with the best in Europe.

Baroness Valentine is the chief executive of the lobby group London First