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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 16:55 GMT
Airport expansion plans face delay
Gatwick Airport
Gatwick was originally excluded from expansion plans
Plans to expand the UK's airports will be delayed until at least next autumn, the transport secretary has told MPs.

Alistair Darling was making a House of Commons statement after already announcing that the government would not appeal against a High Court decision over the expansion plans.

Ministers had excluded Gatwick Airport in West Sussex from the plans but the court said that was "irrational and unfair".

Mr Darling told MPs on Thursday the change would "inevitably mean a period of uncertainty for everyone".
Cliffe marshes, Kent
The idea of a new airport at Cliffe, Kent has provoked protests

New plans, including Gatwick, will now be published in the New Year.

A four-month consultation process will then follow.

Ministers originally decided not to consider extending the Sussex airport because of a legal agreement made in 1979.

However, three local councils challenged the move and won a High Court ruling.

Consultation on the future of England's airports - which involve proposals for a new airport in Kent and expansion at Heathrow, Stansted and Luton - will now include Gatwick.

'Flawed from the start'

This week Essex County Council, Medway Council, Kent County Council and local residents - who feared airport expansion in their own areas - succeeded in gaining a judicial review of the government's consultation process.

Mr Darling decided that to appeal against the decision would only cause more uncertainty and delay.

The longer consultation process was welcomed by Conservative shadow transport secretary Tim Collins.

Mr Collins told MPs the original process had been "flawed from the start" and had looked rushed.

"If the final conclusions are to be seen as fair and reasonable by all involved, then you and your department need to listen more, consult properly and start getting things right, rather than hopelessly wrong," he added.

Mr Darling responded to that criticism by saying he had always stressed that people could come up with their own ideas, not just respond to government proposals.

'Wrong approach'

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Don Foster said the delay provided a chance for other issues of the "flawed" consultation to be put right too.

Mr Foster said the government was taking the wrong approach by trying to predict future demand, rather than managing it.

"There is an incorrect assumption about the economic benefits to continued air expansion in this country simply becoming an international airport transit lounge," he said.

Mr Darling said the government had to provide the foundations for both aviation companies and residents near airports to be able to plan.

Heathrow, for example, employed more than 100,000 directly and indirectly.

No to expansion

Meanwhile opposition to airport expansion continued on Thursday with the travel industry refusing to back plans to build a new four-runway airport at Cliffe on the Thames Estuary in Kent.

The Association of British Travel Agents said the Cliffe option was too expensive and environmentally damaging.

And a referendum result was delivered to Downing Street suggesting nearly 90% of residents around Stansted Airport were opposed to plans for up to three new runways there.

In the ballot, 33,546 people voted against any plans for the new runways.

See also:

27 Nov 02 | England
26 Nov 02 | England
13 Nov 02 | England
05 Nov 02 | England
16 Oct 02 | England
29 Sep 02 | England
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