Heathrow expansion gets green light
LONDON (Reuters) - The government gave the go-ahead for a third runway and another terminal at London's congested Heathrow airport as part of a 9 billion pound expansion, delighting the aviation industry but enraging environmentalists.
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament on Thursday that Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, was running at 99 percent capacity.
"This makes the UK a less attractive place for mobile international business ... the airport is critical to this country's long-term economic prosperity," Hoon said on Thursday.
The new runway will take about 10 years to build, expand traffic to 600,000 flights a year from 480,000 and create new flightpaths across London.
Heathrow, owned by Spain's Ferrovial, handles 65 million passengers a year. Ferrovial shares ticked higher on the announcement -- a rare piece of good news for the operator following an order to sell three of its British airports given earlier this year by country's competition regulator.
Hoon's long-awaited statement came less than a year after Heathrow opened its fifth terminal after much delay due to opposition from campaigners.
"This decision opens the door to Heathrow becoming a truly world class hub airport," said Colin Matthews, Chief Executive of Ferrovial UK arm BAA.
"Meeting the environmental targets will be demanding, but ... we are determined to work with the rest of the aviation industry to achieve them," Matthews said.
The next phase will be to submit a planning application which will take at least a year to put together, BAA said.
Environmental campaigner Greenpeace, concerned about increased carbon emissions, has bought land on the site of the planned runway and hopes to frustrate the process by dividing it into tiny plots under separate owners.
Heathrow's expansion will force the demolition of a village, Sipson, which has more than 700 homes.
"My whole family heritage is going to be wiped out by the third runway," said Jackie Hand, 36, a hairdresser who works in the village. "What can we do when the government takes a decision? We are just a cog in a very big wheel."
HIGH SPEED RAIL
Hoon said the government was also setting up a new company to look at the potential for building a high-speed rail link from London to Scotland via a Heathrow hub station.
The Conservatives said last year that if they win the next general election, due by mid-2010, they would scrap any Heathrow expansion and invest in high-speed rail.
"We will cancel these (Heathrow expansion) plans," Conservative transport spokeswoman Theresa Villiers told BBC radio earlier.
Business leaders, who have often criticised the airport's congestion, long queues and delays, welcomed the expansion.
"This is not an easy decision. But this announcement balances the needs of the economy with those of the environment, and provides the right framework for the country's long-term needs," said Richard Lambert, director-general of the Confederation for British Industry.
Opponents argue the development would increase noise and air pollution for local residents and push up emissions, making it harder for the government to meet climate change goals.
Hoon said that as part of the plans the third runway would at first be restricted to 125,000 flights a year.
He also said the government would introduce legislation to ensure expansion met environmental policies. Total carbon emissions from British aviation must fall below 2005 levels by 2050, he said.
Britain is also working on plans to add a second runway at Stansted airport, north of London. When he became Transport Secretary in October, Hoon said Stansted should also be allowed to boost current capacity by 10 percent.
(Additional reporting by Sumeet Desai, Frank Prenesti and Gerard Wynn; Editing by David Cowell and Dan Lalor)
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