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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:23 GMT
Three new runways considered
Aerial view of Gatwick Airport
Gatwick has recently opened a huge extension
Three new airport runways are being considered for south-east England.

It is thought they could be built at Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow, if the proposals in a government aviation study are accepted.

The man who led the Heathrow Terminal Five inquiry described plans for an additional runway at Heathrow as "unaccaptable".

It has also been reported that a completely new airport could be built, possibly near the Thames estuary.

White Paper

A decision to consider three runways would represent a major change in ministers' thinking - they were previously thought to be considering only one new runway over the next 30 years.

The Department for Transport is expected to publish a consultation paper in the spring which sets out all the options.

A White Paper, due to be published at the end of the year, will set out the government's plans for the next three decades.

One Whitehall source has been reported as saying: "One extra runway would not be enough.

High demand

"It's a question of jobs and the contribution of aviation to the economy, and there's also a feeling that if you don't do something to meet demand, the demand will go elsewhere.

"The general feeling is that a very high proportion of demand should be satisfied by 2030."

The addition of a new runway at Heathrow would be particularly controversial after the planning inspector at Heathrow's Terminal Five (T5) inquiry advised there was no room for a new strip.

Roy Vandermeer told BBC Radio 4: "Having heard the evidence at the inquiry, I took the view that a third runway at Heathrow would be totally unacceptable because of its environmental effects."

Tom Brake MP
Tom Brake questioned Stephen Byers over the runway

But Mr Vandermeer said he came to his decision based on looking at evidence about Heathrow Airport and not south-east England as a whole.

He added that the timescale of the T5 inquiry was only half that of the 30-year plans the government is currently looking at.

"I've expressed a view which is based on all the evidence there is now," he said.

"It is possible that environmental issues and their impact will alter and there may be problems with [air] capacity elsewhere."

People campaigning against T5, which was approved by Mr Byers, said a new terminal would pave the way for a new runway.

'Pure speculation'

Tom Brake MP, whose Carshalton and Wallington constituency would be affected by a new runways, told BBC Radio 4 he did not feel reassured.

"I asked Stephen Byers to categorically rule out the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow and I asked him to guarantee that the 48,000 limit on flights would never be exceeded.

"His response was categoric. He would not rule out a third runway.

"As far as the limit on flights are concerned, he said it was a limit but a fresh planning application could be lodged."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said Mr Byers had been considering how to respond to the growing volume of air traffic.

But she said the reports about the three new runways were "pure speculation", saying no decisions had been made on the issue.

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See also:

27 Nov 01 | England
Expansion the way ahead at Gatwick
20 Nov 01 | England
Terminal five cleared for take-off
20 Nov 01 | UK
Heathrow Terminal Five
31 May 99 | The Company File
Airports set to take-off
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