New planning rules ‘will push through third runway’

28.4.2008     (Evening Standard)

Nicholas Cecil

Ministers are to fast-track expansion of Heathrow airport under new planning
rules, it was confirmed today.

The proposals for a third runway could be decided within less than a year by
a new planning commission – sparking fears it will be railroaded through in the
face of widespread opposition from Londoners.

The same process could be used for the proposed switch to using current runways
for both take-offs and landings.

Critics of the reforms fear local residents will be denied a proper say on developments
which could blight their lives. However, the Government believes the new Infrastructure
Planning Commission, due to start work next year, is vital to stop key projects
of national importance being delayed for years.

Local government minister Parmjit Dhanda confirmed to Tory MP for Putney Justine
Greening the commission would decide whether to allow BAA and the Government to
press ahead with expansion, which could see flights increase from 480,000 a year
to more than 700,000.

A public inquiry is expected to be held but not on the scale as happened previously,
such as for Terminal Five, when the hearings lasted for four years.

The commission would hold the inquiry – not an independent inspector.

The Government has already been accused of colluding with BAA over a public consultation
and of rigging figures to make the case for expansion – claims it denies. However,
Ms Greening said: “We need a full public inquiry, not a second sham consultation.
The Government intends to push through Heathrow expansion against the express
will of millions of Londoners.

“This would be a disgraceful attempt at over-riding democracy after 70,000 responses
to the public consultation and massive public concern.”

The Tories urged Londoners to voice their anger at the Government in the mayoral
poll, even though Ken Livingstone has come out against expansion.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the commission would
create a “fairer and faster system”.

Whitehall officials stressed the commission would be independent and it would
be making vital decisions on important infrastructure – not ministers.

• London’s air quality could be sacrificed in a “desperate” move to allow an
extra 60,000 flights a year into Heathrow. Ministers plan to ask the European
Commission to exempt the capital from limits on exposure to harmful pollutants
so it can expand the airport. MPs for constituencies under flight paths accused
ministers of “an enormous betrayal” for allegedly breaking a pledge to block Heathrow
expansion unless air-quality targets are met.

New planning rules ‘will push through third runway’