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There is only one airport option.

The suggestion that an airport the size of Heathrow might be built in the Warwickshire green belt understandably raised incredulity quickly followed by fierce opposition when proposed by the Department for Transport six weeks ago.

There were, though, plenty of commentators unable to take the prospect of a Rugby International Airport too seriously. The madcap idea, it was suggested, must have been proposed by the DfT on the understanding that in rejecting the plan Ministers would be able to position themselves as champions of the countryside while quietly ushering in massive expansion at Birmingham International Airport.

It was, so the argument went, a variation on a favoured Government theme. Scare the voters witless with an outrageous suggestion, in this case building a pounds 7 billion airport in green Middle England, and then bask in reflected glory when choosing the lesser of two evils, a second runway at BIA. That may still be the game plan. However, it has to be said that if the DfT has deliberately proposed a 'no hoper' at Rugby it has gone to a great deal of trouble to cover its tracks.

As we demonstrate today, the search for a site capable of accommodating a new airport for the Midlands was far more extensive than most people suspected.

In many ways, the whole exercise has been a tribute to the efficiency of the British civil service. Who would have thought it possible that extensive research into 32 locations across the West Midlands could be kept under wraps for almost two years?

Only now can the scale of the operation be understood and it is no exaggeration to say that every patch of green space in the region was under the airport planners' microscope.

It is also easy to see why the DfT may have been wary about publishing the list in full. For the recommended site at Church Lawford, near Rugby, was by no means an obvious choice. Rival sites, chiefly in Warwickshire, also commended themselves.

Even if Church Lawford is ruled out; even if the Government rejects the whole idea of a new Midland airport, suspicion will always remain in 32 communities that it is possible to dust off ditched plans and re-introduce them at some future stage.

For this reason alone, the possibility of building a new Heathrow in the West Midlands with its associated environmental misery must be taken very seriously indeed.

We do not believe the case can even begin to be made for such a drastic course of action. The sense of expanding BIA, a proven winner at the heart of the country's motorway and rail network, must be brought home to Ministers.

That in itself will raise anger from families living under an extended BIA flightpath and there is a viable argument in favour of saying that their objections must be taken just as seriously as the protests from Church Lawford.

There are no easy answers to the challenges posed by the increasing popularity of air travel. Who wants an airport to be built in their back yard?

For Birmingham and its economy, though, the closure of BIA is quite simply unthinkable.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 3, 2002
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