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DEBATE - London airports

Debate: The government is likely to back a new runway in the London area this autumn. This week we ask: Is major new runway capacity needed to serve London?

Yes Dirk Paterson, London Chamber of Commerce

While Britain has built only one new runway since the Second World War, France has built two since the last World Cup. So yes, London is badly losing ground.

There is almost no spare runway capacity in the south east and demand to fly is expected to rise by three times from 94M passengers in 1997 to 290M in 2030.

The business world needs to do international business in person. The freight industry is responding to demand for international time critical deliveries.

Low cost airlines are allowing low income families to enjoy the luxuries of summer holidays. In short there is an increasing demand to fly.

Thousands of jobs and the long term future of the capital depend on the realization of this demand. For every one thousand people directly employed at an airport, a further 2,200 individuals are employed indirectly within the national economy.

Our competitors in Europe have fully grasped the link between aviation and the economy. Airports such as Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schipol are all undertaking expansion programmes. These rival airports have added new infrastructure worth more than £9bn, undermining London's competitiveness and that of the UK.

European business leaders have rated London as the best city in Europe for external transport links and the best city overall to locate a business. This partly explains why 65% of the world's largest 500 companies are represented in London and why the capital is home to 539 foreign banks - more than any other city in the world.

The business community fears international firms may choose to relocate to other European capital cities if we do not build the necessary infrastructure.

They will take with them the jobs and prosperity that has built the successful economy the UK currently enjoys.

When examining options for growth many appear to believe that there should be an environmental veto. Business supports sustainability, which means a balance must be sought between environmental, social and economic factors.

London is at a crisis point because the hard decisions to provide the runway infrastructure were not taken twenty years ago. This government has the opportunity in the forthcoming White Paper to take the tough decisions now, and we urge them not to blow this opportunity.

No Paul De Zylva, Friends of the Earth

Need is an odd word. It rhymes with greed and is open to abuse.

The aviation industry would have us believe London and the south east need more airport and runway capacity. The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions' predict-and-provide forecasters say passenger numbers will more than double to 400M a year by 2020.

Meeting this need means the equivalent of four more Heathrows. The aviation industry is out of control. Confirmation comes with a view from the London Chamber of Commerce that it is 'too early to say' if three new runways would be enough.

The Freedom to Fly campaign - a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle - says it wants 'sustainable growth'. If this is more than industry spin it will start by addressing the role of aviation as part of the overall transport mix, aviation's growing impact from climate change to local development pressures and, most of all, its reliance on public subsidies including taxfree fuel.

In the EU, annual subsidies of some 45bn Euros create capacity pressures by lowering prices and artificially increasing demand to fly. In recent years British Airways alone has made more people redundant than jobs created at Terminal 5. Perhaps the hand-outs would be better spent supporting less polluting forms of employment and transport.

Freedom to Fly claim London is losing out to European competitors. Yet even without T5 London is far ahead of the field with a combined 115M passengers a year. After Chicago, Tokyo and Atlanta, the next European threats are Paris - 5th with 73M and Frankfurt - 9th with 49M.

Amsterdam is out of the top ten.

Imagine the compromises Paris and the rest will have to make to play catch up with London. Or vice versa.

Seemingly ministers prefer cosy chats with industry friends than commissioning robust, unbiased work into the industry's contribution and into genuine need and demand. The government's South East Regional Airports Study (SERAS), due to report this spring, is already skewed by overstating the industry's economic benefits and understating the social and environmental impacts.

All par for the course. But playing by Alice in Wonderland rules leaves little room for sensible, sustainable policy making.

The facts

Government statistics state that demand for air travel is set to almost treble from an estimated 180M passengers a year to 460M a year by the year 2020. Capacity in London is predicted to saturate and overspill by 2006.

Organisations including airport operators and big businesses have formed the Freedom to Fly coalition to press the case for sustainable growth in airport capacity. Find out more at www. freedomtofly.co.uk

The government's South East Regional Airport Study - due in April - is set to identify around 30 potential sites for new runway capacity.

The government's Aviation White Paper is due out in the autumn.

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