BAA scraps plans to add new runways

BAA, the UK airports operator, scrapped controversial plans to add extra runways at Stansted and Heathrow yesterday, after the new government said it would not back expansion.

The operator withdrew its planning application for a second runway at Stansted and cancelled work on a planning application for a third runway at Heathrow in reaction to a number of objections outlined in the Lib-Con Coalition Agreement, which outlined plans to block the expansion.

BAA had begun plans to add new runways under the former Labour government, which was a loud cheerleader for airport expansion.

Colin Matthews, BAA’s chief executive officer, said: “We recognise the importance of government policy in a matter as significant and controversial as runway capacity.”

He added: “The policy intentions of the new government are clear and it is no longer appropriate for us to continue.”

BAA had hoped to have the Stansted runway, which would have cost more than £1bn to build, ready for use within the next three years. It had already started work on a relocation scheme for homeowners in the area.

“We have reflected carefully on the new government’s clear intention to change its airports policy and have moved quickly to withdraw this application,” said David Johnston, managing director at Stansted Airport.

He said: “Stansted Airport is a key driver of economic growth in this part of England, and we will continue to work hard to bring new business here and to work with our neighbours, and the wider community.”

BAA confirmed yesterday that it will proceed with home purchases that are already underway in both the Heathrow and Stansted areas.

The airport group, owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, said it will meet with local community members to discuss the situation.

Matthews said: “We introduced the current scheme to assist homeowners faced with an extended period of uncertainty. Today, we will meet with the local community and its representatives to discuss the new situation.”

The writing was always on the wall

WHEN the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives tied the knot and formed a coalition government on 11 May, it was only a matter of time before BAA gave up on its quest to build more runways at its London airports.

With polls pointing at a hung parliament throughout the election campaign, the commentariat started combing through the main parties’ manifestos to see which ones were most likely to sign a power-sharing deal.

Their total opposition to expanding London’s airports was just about the only thing that the Tories and Lib Dems were in complete agreement on.

Ironically, it was Labour – a party that is generally seen as more anti-business than the Conservatives – which became the cheerleader for airport expansion.

Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary, sided with those firms that said a third runway at Heathrow would help Britain maintain its status as a global financial centre. Eventually, he convinced Gordon Brown to back airport expansion.

But it was always going to be an uphill battle. Around 40 Labour backbenchers called for a commons vote on the issue; Mayor of London Boris Johnson was against the plans; and the Liberal Democrats and?Tories sided with residents who said the noise pollution and carbon emissions were already bad enough.

The Tories and Lib?Dems have agreed to start work on a new high-speed rail network instead. But that will come as scant consolation to BAA?and the airlines.