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Heathrow: Ministers face legal showdown with airport operator

BAA Limited, the company which owns and operates six of the UK's major airports has announced that it will consider legal action if the Government continues to categorically rule out a third runway at Heathrow.

The company, which is owned by Spanish infrastructure giants, Grupo Ferrovial, says that expanding Heathrow must be considered as an option in any aviation review.

The controversial expansion of the UK's largest airport has been in the public eye for many years. In 2009, Labour transport minister Geoff Hoon announced that the UK Government would support the addition of a third runway at Heathrow, along with the construction of a sixth terminal.

However, upon arrival in office in 2010, the new Coalition Government shelved those plans, and announced that the expansion of Heathrow via the addition of a third runway was no longer part of the Government's plans.

The Department for Transport is preparing to publish its latest review of aviation policy this month. BAA is currently intensively lobbying government ministers in an attempt to propel the third runway project back onto the agenda.

The BAA proposal will be backed this week by a report commissioned by BAA and conducted by Oxford Economics.

The report will demonstrate that because Heathrow is now operating at maximum capacity the UK is losing trade and investment to other European countries. This Sunday, 100 business leaders signed letters addressed to the Government urging them to consider expansion at Heathrow.

Now it has been reported that should Heathrow expansion fail to be included in the forthcoming aviation review, BAA will consider instructing its lawyer to issue a judicial review.

Colin Matthews is BAA's chief executive. He said to the Financial Times: "I cannot see the rationality for ruling out, at this stage, any option - that much is true."

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats campaigned on a promise to oppose the Labour Government's plans for a third runway.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: "As the Coalition's founding agreement makes clear, there will be no third runway at Heathrow."

It is thought the Government is now considering expansion options at other UK airports, as well as the possibility of constructing a new international airport on an island in the Thames Estuary, as proposed by architect Lord Foster and backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson.

This plan would take up to sixteen years to implement, whereas the third runway at Heathrow could be open by 2018.

Related links:

Read more on the story (Financial Times)

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