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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Airport expansion 'harms economy'
Plane flies near a demonstration banner at Heathrow
Passenger numbers are forecast to rise by 2020 to 400 million yearly
Airport expansion could result in the loss of billions of pounds from the economy as UK travellers spend money abroad, an environmental group says.

Friends of the Earth said visitors flying in spent 11b in the UK in 2004, while UK residents flying out spent 26bn abroad - a 15bn deficit.

It said if airport expansion proceeded as the government plans, the deficit would grow to 30bn annually by 2020.

An industry body said there was no evidence expansion harmed the economy.

Regional loss

According to the Friends of the Earth calculations, based on Office of National Statistics information, regions would miss out the most if regional airports expanded, with only London gaining.

The North East earned 177m from overseas visitors in 2004, but North East residents flying abroad spent 938m - five times as much, resulting in a deficit to the North East economy of 761m, FoE said.

There is no evidence that airport expansion is bad for the economy
British Air Transport Association

By 2020 if airports expand then the North East, for example, will be losing 1.5bn a year, it added.

"There is a widely held view that airport expansion is good for local economies.

"This may well be true in the case of a sunshine island in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, but it does not hold for regions of the UK," the group said on Friday.

With air travel forecast to double by 2020, FoE urged the government and regional decision makers to "recognise that airport expansion will result in an economic drain, not an economic boom, for their region".

'Vital for development'

Its argument was dismissed by the British Air Transport Association, which said the air industry supported 200,000 jobs directly and 600,000 indirectly.

"There is no evidence that airport expansion is bad for the economy," a spokesman said.

"Improving air links between the regions and Europe is vital to the development of regional businesses and the ability to attract overseas investment.

"The availability of cheaper air fares has made flying much more socially inclusive than used to be the case and cutting back on regional airports would increase unemployment and restrict people's choice of where they go on holiday."

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