23 November 2002

3,000 join protest over new airports

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

About 3,000 demonstrators, led by Jamie Oliver, the chef, will march down Whitehall today to protest at Government proposals for the development of new airports in the South-East.

Leaders of protest groups from Stansted, Cliffe, Heathrow, Luton and Rugby will hand in a letter to Tony Blair calling on the Government to curb the predicted growth in air travel over the next 30 years by making the aviation industry pay its full environmental and social costs.

They say in the letter that predictions of a rise in passenger numbers from 180 million to 500 million over the next 30 years are the result of a £6.3 billion-a-year subsidy to the aviation industry - £35 a ticket - through its exemption from VAT and fuel duty.

This subsidy, they will tell the Prime Minister, "leads to the perverse situation that you can now buy a 500-mile air ticket to Europe for less than the price of a 50-mile train ticket to London". International talks on taxing aviation fuel have been going on since 1997.

The proposals for the expansion of Heathrow, Luton and Stansted and the building of new airports at Cliffe in Kent or outside Rugby are "simply a continuation - for the next 30 years - of the incrementalist approach which has failed us in the past," say the leaders of five protest groups.

Officials say ministers are under pressure to make an interim decision quickly on their preferred airport site because the Government's proposals have blighted a large area of the country in and around the areas concerned. Property sales have fallen through, extensions have been cancelled and businesses have stopped expanding.

The Government's consultation on expanding runway capacity throughout the country ends on Nov 30 and a White Paper containing firm proposals for new runways is expected by next summer.