Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

BAA agrees to Heathrow watchdog

A passenger jet
MPs are divided over plans for expansion at Heathrow

Heathrow's owner says it will accept an independent body with the power to limit flights for environmental reasons - if a third runway is approved.

BAA says that if it wins the battle for a third runway and more flights, it will welcome being held to strict noise and pollution controls.

The expansion plans have drawn fierce criticism from environmental campaigners and local residents.

A decision on whether or not it will proceed is expected next month.

BAA says that by asking for a government-appointed assessor, it can reassure the public that it will adhere to environmental regulations.

'Stringent' criteria

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, said: "We have listened to the many arguments around expansion at Heathrow.

"Although the economic case remains compelling, we understand that we can only increase the number of flights if we can safeguard levels of noise and air quality."

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Mr Matthews said that if the airport did not respect limits set by government, the number of flights in and out of the busy west London airport could be capped.

The expansion would include a new runway, allowing the annual number of inward and outbound flights to be increased to 605,000 by 2020 and 702,000 by 2030 - up from 480,000 today.

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Mr Matthews also said BAA only plans to use runways for both take-off and landings in quick succession - so-called "mixed-mode" - at peak times of the day and only once the airport has improved its record on flight delays.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has said any expansion approvals will come with "stringent" environmental criteria.

Both BAA and the airport's biggest tenant, British Airways, have described the third runway as "vital" to the UK economy.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats oppose the idea of a new runway, as do environmental groups, while some backbench Labour MPs are calling for a rethink.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "We have seen this all before.

"What BAA needs to realise is that people do not want a third runway, we do not need a third runway, and under a Conservative government there will not be a third runway."

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said: "This is a worthless promise, as BAA has to stick to EU emissions limits anyway."

John Sauven, of Greenpeace, said: "If BAA builds a third runway at Heathrow there is simply no way the airport will avoid breaking pollution limits. That's a fact."

Wandsworth Council leader Edward Lister, speaking on behalf of the 2M Group of councils opposed to Heathrow's expansion, said: "No-one will believe claims by either BAA or the government that flights will be cut in the future in the light of environmental concerns."

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