Blair backs Stansted expansion

PRIME Minister Tony Blair has stressed the need for a second runway to be built at Stansted Airport, claiming the bid is vital to economic growth in the region.

PRIME Minister Tony Blair has stressed the need for a second runway to be built at Stansted Airport, claiming the bid is vital to economic growth in the region.

Mr Blair said the decision to press ahead with new development at the airport was made after a "long and thorough" examination of all possible options.

The Prime Minister made the comments as he answered questions posed by East Anglian Daily Times readers, published in today's newspaper.

Asked why it was necessary to build the second runway and how he defended the "destruction" of the landscape and environment, Mr Blair said: "There are no easy answers to these problems. I wish there were.

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"But the truth is that unless we are going to stop people flying - which would hit business travel and our future prosperity as well as people going on holidays or breaks - then we need more capacity at our airports."

He added: "Stansted's existing capacity will be full by 2012 which is why an additional runway has been proposed.

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"I accept that this will result in new development around the airport. But the decision was made after a long and thorough assessment of all the possible options and the risk to economic growth in the south east if we did nothing."

But Carol Barbone, campaign director for Stop Stansted Expansion, last night denounced Mr Blair's comments as "hypocritical".

She said: "As the Prime Minister knows only too well, aviation is the fastest growing source of global warming emissions and his comments about expansion at Stansted are hypocritical in the extreme given his recent declaration that global warming represents a bigger threat than international terrorism.

"Tony Blair quite clearly lacks the political will to face up to the long-term damage which his air transport expansion plans would create for future generations."

She claimed that, despite Government and industry "spin", air travel statistics give no indication the less well off are travelling by air more frequently but instead show a decline in the overall percentage of those on low incomes travelling by air as the rich snap up cheap flights.

"If the Prime Minister really wanted to do something to help society as a whole he should consider charging airlines the same amount of tax as the motorist pays on fuel," she added.

Alan Line, chairman of the South Suffolk Air Traffic Action Group, which is opposed to the airport expansion plans, said: "I think the key thing Mr Blair is forgetting is whether we should be allowing this pace of aviation growth to carry on at the same level when it is doing so much danger to the environment.

"Our organisation does not have anything against anyone flying but not when the growth of air travel is to an extent that it becomes detrimental to the environment.

"I don't think a second runway is inevitable as I think current projections over numbers are just pie in the sky."

Airport operator BAA announced plans to build a second runway at Stansted by 2012 following the publication of the Government's Aviation White Paper 18 months ago. It intends to submit a detailed planning application in spring 2006.

No-one at BAA was available for comment last night.

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