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Heathrow begins public consultation on airport expansion, motorway move

[LONDON] Heathrow Airport launched a 10-week public consultation on its proposed expansion on Wednesday, saying it would ask locals for their views on issues such as the rerouting of a major motorway near the airport and the length of a new, third runway.

Prime Minister Theresa May backed a US$22 billion expansion of the London hub, which is the biggest airport in Europe, in October 2016, after decades of government indecision.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said the government aims to give the go-ahead to the new runway in the first half of this year.

The expansion plan has been controversial, with critics highlighting the possible impact on air quality in London and noise levels in the local community, while airlines want the airport to keep costs down.

"Heathrow is consulting to ensure that we deliver benefits for our passengers, businesses across the country but also, importantly, for those neighbours closest to us," said Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow's executive director for expansion.

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The consultation will work to deliver expansion while meeting strict environmental tests, the airport said, but will also ask for views on a proposal to move a short section of the London orbital M25 motorway 150 metres to the west.

The proposal would also lower the motorway by seven metres and put it in a tunnel so the runway can pass over it. Local residents will also be consulted on three options for the new runway and what the terminal infrastructure should be.

Heathrow has pledged to keep costs down during the expansion, and said it had identified options to deliver the airport for £2.5 billion (S$4.6 billion) less than previous plans thanks to engagement over the last year.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways owner IAG , said Heathrow had to become cheaper for its expansion to succeed, in an article in the Financial Times earlier this week.

Airlines UK, an industry association which represents UK-registered carriers, said that airlines might renege on their support for expansion if costs were not kept down.

"Airlines have been consistent in their support for expansion at Heathrow and will be making the case for a new runway," said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK.

"However... this backing remains conditional upon costs being kept under control and passenger charges not increasing in real terms, and they will reserve the right to withdraw their support if this is not achievable."


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