Campaigners' delight at Stansted ruling

CAMPAIGNERS last night welcomed a recommendation by competition chiefs that Stansted Airport is sold off by its owner - and renewed calls for the site's expansion to be scrapped.

Elliot Furniss

CAMPAIGNERS last night welcomed a recommendation by competition chiefs that Stansted Airport is sold off by its owner - and renewed calls for the site's expansion to be scrapped.

The Competition Commission has found that BAA, which owns seven of the country's largest airports, including Stansted, should sell part of its empire to reduce the monopoly it holds on the industry.

Stansted now looks set to be sold off by the aviation giant, along with Gatwick, to make the London air travel market more competitive.

The news came as a massive boost to the campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), which said it was “delighted”.

But Spanish-owned BAA has claimed that the commission's report will create “uncertainty, delay and confusion”.

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Carol Barbone, campaign director for SSE, which opposes plans to increase passenger numbers and build a second runway at Stansted, said yesterday's ruling was something they had demanded for years.

She said: “SSE has long argued for a break-up of BAA and is therefore delighted by the provisional findings report from the Competition Commission concluding that BAA must sell two of its three London airports.

“We consider it inconceivable that BAA would willingly sell Heathrow which means that Stansted and Gatwick must both be sold.

“This will not in itself remove the threat of a second runway at Stansted but we believe it moves us a step closer to the day when this idea will be abandoned.”

She said the group was now looking forward to working with the new owner of Stansted towards achieving this objective.

In a report published yesterday, the commission said separate owners of the main London sites would do a better job than BAA, which has faced much criticism of late because of delays, baggage problems and the shambolic opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5.

The commission was also critical of the airport economic regulation role of the Civil Aviation Authority and of Government aviation policy, saying it was “minded” to recommend a review of the 2003 aviation White Paper.

Lord Hanningfield, member of the CO2 Group (Councils Opposing Second Runway) and leader of Essex County Council, said the report made interesting reading but fundamentally made no difference to the group.

He said: “We won't be distracted by the issue of ownership and we will continue to make the case that building another runway in this rural location would be an environmental calamity.”

Colin Matthews, BAA's chief executive, said the commission's findings should be assessed in the light of the “urgent need” for new airport capacity.

He said: “The commission's findings state that the lack of runway capacity is a main reason for what it calls the current poor standards of service and the lack of resilience at times of disruption, which results in regular delays.

“By calling not just for a fundamental restructure of BAA but also for a review of the Government's air transport White Paper, the commission risks delaying that delivery of new runways and making better customer service less, not more, likely.”

He said BAA would be seeking urgent clarification from the Government on how it believes the report's findings could be reconciled with the air transport policy it established in 2003 and its current review of economic regulation.

He added: “Just as the Government is about to make the decisions that could lead to the first full-length runways being built in the south east since the Second World War, the commission risks creating uncertainty, delay and confusion at exactly the wrong time.”

The commission will now consult on its recommendations before making a final report early next year.

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