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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 12:10 GMT
Airport expansion plans confirmed
Stansted Airport
Plans for Stansted have been delayed
The government has reaffirmed its commitment to airport expansion plans despite opposition from green groups.

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander told MPs the government was committed to a third, short runway at Heathrow airport and a new runway at Stansted.

The "progress report" on the 2003 Aviation White Paper has angered environmentalists, who want a curb on flights and expansion.

The Tories said Labour's air policy clashed with its climate change stance.

Planning refusal

The White Paper proposed a new runway at Stansted by 2011-12 and a third runway at Heathrow, subject to meeting environmental targets, around the middle of the next decade.

The Stansted timetable has slipped and there was a further complication last month when Uttlesford Council turned down airport owner BAA's planning application to increase passenger numbers to 35 million a year.

Aviation should meet its climate change costs and should limit noise and pollution
Douglas Alexander
Transport Secretary

This application did not include the new runway, for which a separate application will have to be put forward.

Mr Alexander said: "There has been increasing awareness since the White Paper was published of the need to ensure that the aviation industry grows sustainably.

"The government has also recognised this as a priority. The progress report confirms our intention that aviation should meet its climate change costs and should limit noise and pollution at airports across the country.

"At the same time, we must ensure that the UK has the airport capacity it needs to enhance its economic performance."

He announced that major aviation expansion would be subject to an "emissions cost assessment" to check whether it "is meeting its external climate change costs".

It is due to consult on developing the assessment next year.

The chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, Keith Jowett, said the progress report showed the aviation industry was "on course to deliver vital infrastructure".

This issue is so important - not just for the future of the planet but for the future of our government.
David Miliband
Environment Secretary

He said the industry "can be green and still grow" by a reduction in aircraft emissions of up to 50% expected in the next 15 years, and by emissions trading.

The recent government-commissioned Stern Review into climate change - which said global temperatures could rise between two and three degrees Celsius in 50 years - "should be a wake-up call".

The government progress report comes as Environment Secretary David Miliband warned that Labour could lose the next election unless it focussed on the environment.

In a speech to the Fabian Society, he will say: "There is not a big government solution to global warming. The only solution is smart government combined with motivated business and empowers citizens.

"That needs a new sort of politics. That is why this issue is so important - not just for the future of the planet but for the future of our government."

'Inconsistent' policy

Shadow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, for the Conservatives, said: "The government's policy of predict and provide for future aviation growth is completely inconsistent with the messages they are giving us on climate change.

"They still seem to be failing to reflect the very real environmental challenges in their aviation strategy."

The Tories said they were still reviewing their aviation policy and could not say yet whether they were for or against airport expansion.

However, they said that as climate change was such an important issue it was "a bit strange" that Labour was not factoring it more into its aviation policy.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: "It would be absolute folly to make any plans to expand airports in the south east of England."

Continuing fight

Campaign group HACAN ClearSkies said it would continue to fight against Heathrow's expansion, with chairman John Stewart saying 700 homes would have to be demolished, while 150,000 more people would be under the flight path for the new runway.

A group formed by seven London boroughs and four authorities outside London, representing two million people living under the flight path, called for a "far-reaching, independent study which includes the full environmental cost of aviation and looks at the impact of spending on flights on the wider economy."

This week, the Office of Fair Trading said it was recommending the Competition Commission hold a full inquiry into airport ownership - a move threatening BAA's ownership of Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick airports.

Friends of the Earth's aviation campaigner Richard Dyer said: "The anticipated growth in air travel threatens to destroy government plans to tackle climate change."

Graphic of proposed third runway at Heathrow
Proposals as outlined in 2003 Aviation White Paper, subject to change

Map of Stansted Airport
Proposals as outlined in 2003 Aviation White Paper, subject to change

Angry campaigners are fighting the expansion plans

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