* Committee argues for more runways at London's Heathrow
* Environmental, transport costs "too high" for estuary hub
By William James
LONDON, May 10 Britain should expand London's
Heathrow airport by building a third or even fourth runway,
lawmakers said on Friday, weighing into an argument pitting
business leaders against environmentalists.
Parliament's Transport Committee rejected a plan championed
by London Mayor Boris Johnson to build a new airport in the
River Thames estuary to the east of the capital, citing the cost
of new transport links and the impact on wildlife.
It also dismissed suggestions that rising demand could be
met by connecting existing airports with high-speed rail links.
"We conclude that a third runway at Heathrow is
necessary, but also suggest that a four-runway proposal may have
merit," the committee said in a statement released on Friday to
coincide with the release of its report.
The committee's inquiry was launched last year to consider
how to increase London's air transport capacity, which has been
stretched to the limit by rising demand while the discussion
over the expansion strategy has dragged on.
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition
government bowed to pressure from local residents and protest
groups concerned about the environmental impact of a Heathrow
expansion when it came to power in 2010 by scrapping plans to
build a third runway.
It also ruled out expanding London's smaller airports.
However, a top business lobby group said in March that
Britain risked missing out on billions of pounds in trade if it
failed to boost direct flights to the world's fastest-growing
economies, such as Brazil, China and Russia.
Even lawmakers in Cameron's party, such as Johnson, disagree
over the best way to address the issue, but the committee's
findings will add to pressure on the government to reconsider
expansion of Heathrow, owned by Spanish infrastructure firm
"We urge the government to respond positively to this report
and to actively consider what practical temporary measures could
be implemented to secure additional capacity at Heathrow in the
short-term," the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said.
Conservation group WWF criticised the report, saying there
was no proven link to economic growth and that Britain has ample
capacity to grow without endangering climate change targets.
"This report from the Transport Select Committee is about as
predictable and welcome as rain in a British summer," WWF said
in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Rhys Jones; Editing by Sonya