Page last updated at 15:13 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Brown 'dithering over Heathrow'

Planes at Heathrow
BAA says Heathrow needs a third runway to compete globally

Gordon Brown has been accused of "dithering" over a third runway for Heathrow, as campaigners step up protests in anticipation of a decision.

A decision had been expected this week but the PM's spokesman would only confirm one would be made "in January".

The Tories said pressure was growing on the PM while the Lib Dems said he was trying to "buy himself... more time".

Meanwhile campaigners have bought land earmarked for the runway's construction in a bid to thwart the plans.

Asked whether a decision was imminent on Tuesday, the prime minister's spokesman said: "We said we would make an announcement in January, it's the 12th, there are many, many more days on which an announcement could be made."

Delayed

He added there had been a "brief discussion" in Tuesday's cabinet meeting, adding: "There will be further discussions on specific items of detail in the days ahead."

Several Labour MPs urged Mr Brown to drop the plans on Monday at the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party since the Christmas break.

Gordon Brown is dithering over the decision on Heathrow he has been promising for months
Theresa Villiers
Shadow transport secretary

The government has said it supports, in principle, a third runway at Heathrow - subject to it meeting pollution targets and improved public transport access.

But a decision has already been put back from December to allow time for "proper consideration" of concerns.

There have been reports that several cabinet ministers have serious concerns about the plan and there has been growing unrest among backbenchers. In October 56 Labour MPs signed a Commons motion urging the government to rethink its plans.

Mr Brown told Labour backbenchers on Monday there was an intense debate to be had on how to balance the economic case and the country's environmental obligations.

Legal challenges

Martin Salter, one of the MPs opposing the plans, said after the meeting Mr Brown had agreed to meet them to discuss concerns in detail.

"The longer the government keeps debating this, the better," he said.

Meanwhile a Greenpeace coalition has bought land half the size of a football pitch near Sipson - the village due to lose hundreds of homes if the expansion gets the go-ahead.

Sipson Village
Hundreds of homes in Sipson would be bulldozed if the runway is built

They say they will divide it into small squares and sell it off to people across the world, in an effort to tie up the planning process in hundreds of legal challenges.

And London's Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, has suggested he will go to court over any decision to allow the third runway to go ahead. He has called for a new airport to be built in the Thames Estuary instead.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats oppose the expansion of Heathrow - both parties favour the development of high-speed rail links instead.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Under growing pressure, Gordon Brown is dithering over the decision on Heathrow he has been promising for months, as evidence mounts that Labour is on the wrong side of the argument on expansion."

"Unless he listens to dissent in his own party and drops his misguided plans for a third runway, no-one will believe a word Labour says on pollution and climate change."

'Jam-packed'

Susan Kramer, who is leading the Liberal Democrats' campaign against the plans, said: "Gordon Brown hasn't even managed to persuade his own party to support the third runway, but instead of listening to the public and saying no to Heathrow expansion, it sounds as though he's hoping to buy himself a little more time."

Greenpeace says allowing a new runway to be built would have "disastrous consequences" - both for local people and the government's efforts to tackle climate change.

But BA chief executive Willie Walsh said expanding Heathrow was the only "credible option" and said all the environmental concerns could be met.

He says the project would not be completed until about 2019/20 by which time new aircraft would emit 55% less carbon dioxide than planes did in 2000.

Airport operator BAA argues Heathrow is "jam-packed" and needs a third runway to remain competitive globally.

The Unite and GMB unions also back the third runway and say it will create 65,000 new jobs.



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