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Britain delays decision on London airport expansion

Friday, December 11, 2015 - 07:26
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The British government on Thursday said it had postponed a divisive decision on where to expand London's airport capacity until the middle of next year.

[LONDON] The British government on Thursday said it had postponed a divisive decision on where to expand London's airport capacity until the middle of next year.

An earlier commission had recommended the expansion of Heathrow airport, but that has met fierce resistance from some lawmakers and environmental groups, as well as thousands of people living near the airport.

"The government will undertake a package of further work and we anticipate that it will conclude over the summer," Prime Minister David Cameron's office said in a statement.

Business groups have lobbied for Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, to be extended, but hundreds of homes would have to be demolished and the extra air traffic could mean Britain fails to meet emissions targets.

"Businesses will see this as a gutless move by a government that promised a clear decision on a new runway by the end of the year," said John Longworth, director-general at the British Chambers of Commerce.

The government attributed much of the delay to evaluating the possible environmental impact of expanding the capital's airport capacities.

The other London airports considered for expansion were Gatwick, Luton, Southend, City and Stansted.

"We will undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon," said Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said.

However, critics said the decision to delay was to avoid political embarrassment because a member of Mr Cameron's Conservative party, who represents an area near Heathrow, threatened to resign should the airport be extended.

Lawmaker Zac Goldsmith is expected to run for London mayor next year, and his resignation as a member of parliament would result in a local election to replace him.

"I am absolutely delighted that, after much campaigning, the government has heard the arguments, seen sense and will judge the options against an environmental test," Mr Goldsmith said.

He has in the past said he would not quit if the prime minister announced a "legitimate delaying exercise".

"To further delay a decision shows what we have repeatedly said - that party politics takes precedence over what is best for the economy," said Willie Walsh head of British Airways parent International Airlines Group.

When in opposition in 2009, Mr Cameron had opposed adding a third runway to Heathrow.

AFP