Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Heathrow Airport Consultation Has Ended

The government's three-month public consultation into the future expansion of London Heathrow Airport ended on Wednesday 27th February, amid further arguments from those supporting and protesting against the development plans.

Recent weeks have seen increasingly vocal arguments and counter-arguments on either side of the debate to expand what is one of the world's busiest airports, with airline industry figures, business leaders, politicians, environmental lobbyists and local pressure groups all making their feelings known.

True to form, the last few hours before the consultation ended saw supporters and critics of the proposals deliver further evidence in support of their contrasting claims.

Then, on Wednesday morning, five members ofthe Plane Stupid protest group managed to evade security to climb onto the roof of the Houses of Parliament in London where, during a three-hour protest, they unfurled large anti-expansion banners. This followed a protest at Heathrow itself on Monday, where Greenpeace activists staged a brief protest on a British Airways airliner.

'Valuable' Economic Argument for Heathrow Expansion

Those supporting the expansion plans - which make provision for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow by 2020 - said the economic argument for expanding Heathrow was impressive.

A study from the Institute of Directors and the airline bmi claimed 70% of UK business surveyed wanted Heathrow to expand because of the economic growth potential the airport's expansion could bring. The report said Heathrow is a "valuable business hub for UK industry" and that the "contribution [the airport] makes to economic prosperity must not be overlooked".

This claim followed in the wake of similar comments made by business and trade union leaders and by airline bosses Willie Walsh, from British Airways, and - just at the weekend - Virgin Atlantic's Sir Richard Branson.

The UK's regional airports are also said to have favoured the expansion of Heathrow in their submissions to the government's consultation because of the knock-on effects of having links to Heathrow.

Graeme Mason from Newcastle International Airport commented: "The future growth of Heathrow does not just impact on London and the south east; it also has a major impact on peripheral regions which rely greatly on access into major airports for continued growth, inward investment and access to world markets".
Heathrow Development Opposed By Politicians, Environment Groups

On the other side of the argument, many polticians, environmental campaigners and anti-expansion lobbyists voiced their opinion that the effects of expanding Heathrow would be entirely negative.

Despite deploring the actions of the Plane Stupid protest at the House of Commons, several MPs went on record saying they agreed with the core argument that developing the airport was a bad move for environmental reasons.

The Plane Stupid protesters were eventually led off the Parliament building roof peacefully and subsequently arrested by police for trespass.

Greenpeace, who staged the Heathrow protest on Monday, said: "If the government is serious about tackling climate change, there should be no question of increasing the number of flights coming in and out of Heathrow Airport".

Some of those against the expansion also attacked the consultation process itself.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker MP described the process as "a sham", while Greenpeace commented that "the consultation process...[has been] designed to push through a decision that has already been made". The Department of Transport (DoT) refuted this claim.

On Monday evening, over 2,500 local residents surrounding Heathrow attended an anti-expansion rally which was attended by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, and supported by the candidates for the Mayor of London - all of whom, including the present Mayor, Ken Livingstone, have come out in opposition to the expansion plans.

Now the consultation has ended, the Department of Transport will look into the submissions received.

It is expected a decision about the expansion proposals will be announced during the summer.

Source - Airport International's London Reporter

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