Stansted expansion 'unlikely' - campaigners

ANY new owners of Stansted Airport are “highly unlikely” to press ahead with plans for a second runway there, campaigners claimed last night.

Roddy Ashworth

ANY new owners of Stansted Airport are “highly unlikely” to press ahead with plans for a second runway there, campaigners claimed last night.

Competition watchdogs forced current owner BAA to put the airport up for sale yesterday in order to bring “substantial benefits to passengers and airlines”.

But the firm's chief executive did not rule out appealing against the decision of the Competition Commission (CC), saying it “might have to” contest it.

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Following a long investigation, the CC ruled that Spanish-owned BAA must sell Gatwick and Stansted airports within a two year period, as well as either Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Brian Ross, economics adviser to pressure group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), said: “SSE has been actively campaigning for a break-up of BAA's monopoly for more than four years and so we are naturally delighted by the decision, which is an important milestone.

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“BAA's plans for a second runway at Stansted are driven by allegiance to government policy on airport expansion, not by commercial realities.

“We cannot imagine any potential purchaser wanting to press ahead with BAA's plans for Stansted, particularly in the current economic climate.”

A public inquiry to consider BAA's second runway plans had been due to begin on April 15 but was recently put on hold by Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, to allow BAA time to re-consider its position after seeing the CC's final report.

In that document, the CC also said the Department for Transport should consider the impact of its 2003 aviation White Paper now that Gatwick and Stansted are to be sold.

The CC said it was confident the sale of the airports would bring “substantial benefits to passengers and airlines”.

Airlines, businesses and political parties welcomed the decision but BAA said it would consider whether to contest the ruling, claiming that the commission's analysis was “flawed”.

The firm, which has already put Gatwick up for sale, had been under fire for some years, with passengers complaining of long queues, poor facilities and missing bags.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said his company “might have to” contest the ruling.

“It is not just a question of whether we agree or not with the CC's analysis, it is also a question of the practicalities of selling three airports in the current, extraordinarily tough (conditions),” he said.

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