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British government to approve new Heathrow runway

British government to approve new Heathrow runway

The British government will announce Thursday that it has approved construction of a controversial third runway at London's Heathrow Airport, according to a government official.
Government approval is an important hurdle, but proponents of the runway still face a well-organized, well-funded environmental coalition determined to prevent it from being built. Britain's two major opposition parties oppose the plan.
Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon planned to tell British lawmakers Thursday of his plans to recommend the third runway, according to a government official who demanded anonymity to speak before the official announcement.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking in Berlin before the official announcement in London, all but confirmed the runway would be approved. He said the decision would help Britain's economy.
"It is always our desire to make sure that we protect the economic future of the country while at the same time meeting the very tough environmental conditions that we have set ourselves for noise and pollution and for climate change," he said.
The government's decision is designed to keep Heathrow, which now has only two runways, competitive with other major European airports, including Amsterdam's Schipol, with five runways, and Paris Charles de Gaulle, with four.
Despite the government's backing for the plan, Heathrow's expansion faces difficult challenges because of a spirited coalition of politicians and activists determined to keep the airport at its present size. The planned length of the new runway was not known.
Transport Secretary Hoon also is expected to announce support for the runway plan and a series of improvement to the country's rail network, the anonymous official said. The improvements likely to be announced include the development of a high-speed link to Heathrow, possible construction of a new line linking north and south England, and the electrification of some rail lines. The government was also planning to announce environmental protections to assure the new runway meets noise and pollution guidelines.
The decision was backed by business and union leaders who believe it may lead to the creation of roughly 65,000 new jobs.
Paul Charles, spokesman for Virgin Atlantic airline, said the planned new runway "will help Britain to create jobs and remain central to the global economy."
Leaders of the Unite civil aviation union said the expansion is necessary to preserve Heathrow's status as a major international transport hub.
The well-organized opposition to the plan is likely to slow the effort of airport owners BAA Ltd. to obtain planning permission for the project.
Opponents say the addition of more than 200,000 flights a year would torpedo the government's plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and also violate European Union pollution and noise standards.
John Stewart, chairman of a group representing people who live near Heathrow, said Thursday that campaigners are still confident they can stop the runway. He said the group is consulting its lawyer to map a legal strategy.
"The plan fact remains that if Labour (the governing Labour Party) loses the next general election, this expansion will not take place," he said, characterizing the government's support as "the last gasp of the dinosaurs."
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Associated Press Writer David Stringer contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-21 17:04 GMT+08:00