Waite demands halt to airport expansion

By Ted JeoryFORMER hostage Terry Waite called last night on the Government to call a halt to the proposed airport expansion that threatens to destroy large swatches of the Essex countryside.

By Ted Jeory

FORMER hostage Terry Waite called last night on the Government to call a halt to the proposed airport expansion that threatens to destroy large swatches of the Essex countryside.

He also demanded ministers listen to thousands of residents, whom he said were terrified their way of life would be lost forever if extra runways are given the go-ahead at Stansted Airport.

Issuing a battle cry yesterday to hundreds of protesters on a rally just miles from the airport, the former Archbishop of Canterbury special envoy said "enough was enough".

He claimed the South-East already had sufficient runway space and Government proposals were more about allowing big businesses to make larger profits than strategic transport policy.

Mr Waite, who lives near Bury St Edmunds, spoke before he led marchers on a seven-mile Horseshoe Hike, designed to coincide with the opening of the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.

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Campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion, which organised the event, said it wanted to send out a powerful message to Transport Secretary Alistair Darling that the concreting over of the Essex countryside would face huge opposition across East Anglia.

The Government is considering building up to three new runways at Stansted Airport to cater for the growing demand for air travel in Britain.

Mr Waite, who spent 1,763 days as a hostage in Lebanon after being taken captive in 1987, said: "This possible expansion is a serious detriment to our way of life.

"Bit by bit our beautiful and ancient countryside is being eroded. People need to act now, it's no use later – they need to make themselves heard."

He added: "Expansion will lead to the ruination of rural communities. I simply don't believe it's a case of needing more runways – we already have plenty in the region.

"BAA is after the huge profits to be made out of car parking fees and retailing that come with massive airports."

Mr Waite said previous accusations that he was a hypocrite to campaign against airport expansion because he was a frequent flyer had missed the point.

"We can't help flying these days, but the Government needs to start investing in other transport policies. Make rail cheaper – it's stupid people flying from London to Manchester, for example," he added.

Ramblers meeting outside the Three Horseshoes pub in Duton Hill, which acted as the starting point of the seven-mile trek, backed Mr Waite.

Pat Bruce, from Pleshey, near Chelmsford, said: "I actually think air travel is decreasing in popularity and the Government will be making a huge mistake that cannot be reversed if expansion goes ahead. Any new airport needs to be built offshore."

If the expansion goes ahead, it is thought one runway would be built within half a mile of Tilty Abbey, which has just celebrated its 850th anniversary.

A spokesman for Stansted Airport operator, BAA, said: "It's interesting that Terry Waite is making these calls when in fact he flies an awful lot – he seems to want to deny the same right for others.

"This is not about just BAA anyway, the Government is considering other airports not operated by us, like Luton.

"It would be ludicrous if BAA, which runs London's three major airports, was not being considered by the Government."

ted.jeory@eadt.co.uk

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