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Britain's environment minister concerned by Heathrow plan

Heathrow airport.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Dec 14, 2008
The British government should ditch plans to expand London's main airport Heathrow if pollution levels are not dramatically cut, Environment Minister Hilary Benn told The Sunday Times newspaper.

A controversial British government decision on building a third runway at Heathrow, the world's biggest international passenger air hub, has been delayed until next month as ministers continue to thrash out the pros and cons.

The issue has sparked strong opinions in Britain, pitting business groups and airlines against environmental organisations and local residents.

In an expression of apparent concern about the impact of a third runway at the west London airport, Benn said he was "determined" to honour commitments to meet environmental pledges.

Benn said Heathrow already breached European Union limits on air pollution but its opt-outs on those directives run out by 2015, by which time Britain has pleged to get emissions below the limits.

"We have to achieve the environmental objectives. We have to honour that commitment and I am determined that we will," Benn told the weekly broadsheet.

"We have a problem with nitrogen dioxide around Heathrow, principally the road traffic, some of it is the aircraft."

Benn was sceptical about arguments that "green" technological improvements to air transport would allow Heathrow to meet the EU limits in time while expanding capacity.

"Obviously, there is technological change affecting airports, but, come what may, we will come to a point in 2011 with particulates and 2015 with nitrogen dioxide when we will have to be meeting the terms of the directives.

"That is regardless of whether the decision has been taken," to expand Heathrow, he said.

Benn said there would be serious consequences if Britain failed to meet the EU pollution limits.

"You are then in trouble with the (European) Commission, you get infraction proceedings and then off you go -- which is not something we can contemplate," he said.

The government had pledged to reach a decision on expansion of Heathrow by the end of this year.

In 2003 the government published a draft outline of legislation supporting expansion of the airport and has maintained its backing for building a third runway.

The opening of Heathrow's new Terminal 5 in March was dogged with problems and was branded a "national embarrassment" in a report by lawmakers last month.

Some lawmakers are worried that unless Heathrow expands its capacity then international business will head to more convenient European destinations.

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Climate protesters cause chaos at British airport
London (AFP) Dec 8, 2008
Environmental activists cut through a fence and took over a runway at London's third main airport on Monday forcing the cancellation of more than 50 flights.

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