Airport runway row set to take off

The departures level of Terminal One at Heathrow Airport which is closing later this year to be redeveloped.
The departures level of Terminal One at Heathrow Airport which is closing later this year to be redeveloped.
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The increasingly bitter battle between Heathrow and Gatwick airports to be chosen as the site for a new runway serving London has intensified.

First, Gatwick said that Heathrow’s expansion plans were illegal as they would breach air quality limits.

Then London Mayor Boris Johnson said the consultation on airport air quality by the Whitehall-appointed Airports Commission, the body that will shortly recommend which runway plan should get the go ahead, was “deeply flawed”.

Gatwick said a legal challenge could be expected should the commission choose Heathrow while Mr Johnson, who is bitterly opposed to Heathrow expansion, said the commission’s final report would be “worthless” unless work on air quality was “redone properly”.

The comments came as all interested parties submitted their views on the commission’s air quality report on the final day of a consultation period.

The report followed the setting last month by the UK’s Supreme Court of a deadline for the Government to produce new plans for reducing air pollution levels.

Yesterday, Gatwick bosses said Heathrow was already in breach of legal air quality limits and expansion at the west London airport would make things worse.

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said Gatwick had not breached limits and still would not if a second runway was built at the West Sussex airport. He added: “If a new runway at Heathrow is recommended it will be wide open to a legal challenge.”

Two separate runway schemes at Heathrow and one at Gatwick have made it on to the shortlist of the commission which earlier ruled out Mr Johnson’s so-called “Boris Island” airport scheme in the Thames Estuary.

Mr Johnson said: “This rushed and deeply flawed consultation undermines the commission’s credibility and only illuminates the ghastly consequences for Londoners of any decision to expand Heathrow. Fundamental questions go unanswered, inconsistent methodologies are applied, key mitigation measures remain mysterious.”

He went on: “And, although they have employed a method of analysis that blatantly favours Heathrow, the commission have been unable to hide the terrible consequences of a third runway, which would clearly leave the Government entirely incapable of meeting its legal obligations on air quality.

“Unless the commission re-does this work properly any final report that they issue in the next couple of months will be so full of holes as to be worthless.”

Heathrow Ltd, the promoters of one of the two Heathrow schemes, said: “The Government has set up an independent commission to recommend how we can maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub. After three years of extensive consultation, evidence gathering and analysis, the commission has confirmed that Heathrow can expand well within local air quality limits.”

Shadow health secretary and Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham said: “Of course, it is essential that we meet our obligations on climate change, minimise local and environmental impacts and show how the benefits of expansion be felt in every corner of the country.

“But, as long as those things can be done, we must grasp the nettle and get on with the job. There can be no more kicking this into the long grass. For too long successive governments have ducked and delayed the vital decisions we need to take for the long-term.”