£400 million bill to expand airport

EDINBURGH airport faces a £400 million bill to relocate the Royal Highland showground to clear the way for its massive expansion plans, its operators were warned yesterday.

The claim came as BAA Scotland published a development masterplan for the airport, where it predicted new transatlantic routes were in the offing.

The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland accused BAA of greed, claiming the firm did not need so much land to extend the airport. The society's showground and Royal Highland Centre - a busy concert venue - host events attracting 1.2 million people a year.

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Ministers have agreed with BAA that the land will be required as the airport grows to accommodate three times its current passenger numbers by 2030.

Western expansion of the terminal and extra apron space for aircraft will require relocation of the showground, but the society said this would cost 200-400 million.

However, Ray Jones, the society's chief executive, said it still hoped for a compromise. He said: "BAA is being greedy. There is room for both of us and they do not need as much space as they say they want."

Mr Jones added that the society was entitled to also benefit from the 1 billion of planned improved transport links to the airport. He said a rail station served both Birmingham airport and the nearby National Exhibition Centre.

But Donal Dowds, BAA Scotland's managing director, said the limited discussions between BAA and the society "had not been productive".

He said the society's major development plans had ground to a halt because the government's aviation white paper had called for the complex to be moved. "They do not have a financial future and at the moment are looking at a brick wall," Mr Dowds said.

Meanwhile, the airport director told The Scotsman he was confident of attracting new direct air links between Edinburgh and the Americas following the successful launch last year of Continental Airlines' daily service to New York, which he said was regularly overbooked.

Mr Dowds said: "Continental is sending a message all over the United States and other airlines are taking note."

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Such new routes are among those expected to double the proportion of international passengers using Edinburgh airport by 2030, from one quarter to half the total.

Mr Dowds said several million Edinburgh passengers a year were travelling to long-haul destinations via other airports when they could be served by direct routes.

The airport's outline masterplan will be finalised after three months' public consultation.

It restated previous growth projections that Edinburgh's current eight million annual passengers could reach 13.7 million by 2013 and 26 million by 2030. The airport handled just three million passengers ten years ago.

The document also confirms that an additional runway is likely to be needed between 2020 and 2030.

While BAA has not drawn up plans for the runway, the masterplan stated it would be to the north and parallel to the existing one, with the extra land required contributing to a doubling of the airport's size.

BAA plans to continue a stage-by-stage expansion of airport facilities until then, starting with a new aircraft pier at the south-east of the terminal opening next year. The subsequent extension of the terminal to the west could include two new parallel aircraft piers.

The masterplan includes new roads to the airport from the Gogar roundabout and the M8, to complement the planned rail and tram links. BAA has objected to the tram scheme, questioning its benefits because its line to the city centre would be less direct than the existing bus service, and the route could conflict with the expansion.

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Mr Dowds admitted BAA would face opposition from surrounding residents. He said: "We will have to persuade the local community that the airport expansion is a good thing. Planned noise mitigation measures are due to be published shortly."

Bill Scholes, the chairman of Cramond Community Council, whose residents are under the airport flight path, said their quality of life was already suffering and more flights would make it worse.

TRANSform Scotland condemned the plans as "incompatible with protection of the environment", while Friends of the Earth Scotland said urgent action was needed to curb pollution caused by aviation, which was the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases.