The battle lines have been drawn over the future of Heathrow Airport. But what side of the debate are you on, asks Chronicle reporter Daniel Lyons?

AT a fat 236 pages, the consultation into expansion at Heathrow is going to take some time to digest.

And you could argue that with numerous noise contour maps and statistical tables, there is a danger of blinding people with science.

However, the Government is urging people to give their views before the deadline of February 27.

So what are the main topics of discussion?

Under the plans a THIRD RUNWAY and SIXTH TERMINAL would be built, boosting the airport's capacity to 702,000 take-offs and landings a year.

The Government also supports making more use of the existing runways through variations on the MIXED-MODE system.

This would mean the end of runway alternation, which gives residents under the flight path respite for at least half the day.

The long-standing CRANFORD AGREEMENT, which has protected the village from landings since the 1950s, would also be scrapped under mixed-mode operations.

Whitehall aviation chiefs believe all the proposals are achievable while maintaining strict noise and environmental guidelines.

"In the economic interest of UK Plc and international competitiveness, we need to expand Heathrow," aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick, pictured right, told the Chronicle.

He claimed proposals to scrap runway alternation and the Cranford agreement are 'wide open'. However, he would not go as far as promising that if a resounding 'no' came back then mixed-mode would not happen.

It is also wrong to class the debate as business versus residents, he added.

"We've got evidence to suggest many residents support expansion, including those whose families rely on the airport," he said.

BUSINESSES and unions have hailed government claims that expansion at Heathrow would pass strict environmental tests, as they rallied behind the plans.

Future Heathrow, which represents employers, staff and aviation organisations, insists the proposals will rake in £10billion a year for the country.

Growth would remove the threat to London's status as a global business capital and boost inward investment, the group also claims.

Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, said: "The Government needs to move forward swiftly so that extra capacity at Heathrow can become a reality.

"The verdict that local environmental tests can be met is an important step forward."

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, added: "Aviation supports around 500,000 jobs in the UK, and many others in support services, so the future of Heathrow is crucial to our economy."

Meanwhile Stephen Nelson, chief executive of BAA, said: "Heathrow is full and its dependence on two runways, while European competitors have four or five, causes delays, stacks and crawling taxiway queues. The cost of this congestion can be measured economically and environmentally."

Both Mr Nelson and Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways, claim growth would be sustainable.

TRANSPORT secretary Ruth Kelly has been accused of 'ruthless spin' following the launch of the Government's consultation on expansion at Heathrow.

Mrs Kelly claimed last week the number of people affected in any noise contour has fallen 'quite dramatically' over the past 30 years.

But Barbara Reid, Hounslow Council's lead member for aviation, slammed her 'audacity'.

"It is obvious to anyone that doubling the capacity of Heathrow will mean more planes, more noise and more pollution," she said.

"These proposals could lead to a plane flying over London every 30 seconds at peak times, which will mean more noise and more misery for more people.

"I am astounded at the Transport Secretary's ruthless spin."

She said the government's own research shows that more than two million people will be affected by aircraft noise.

Meanwhile John Stewart, chairman of anti-expansion group HACAN ClearSkies, said the plans were bad news for people living under the flight path.

"There will be more planes and more noise and even though the Government is trying to say noise levels will be lower, the majority of people just won't take that seriously," he added.

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone also said he was 'firmly opposed' to expansion, on environmental grounds.

AS the Government unveiled its controversial expansion plans, Chronicle reporter Nick Edmondson asked residents for their views.

Debbie Acton, 35, from Hounslow, said: "I think it's going to be a good thing. What worries me is the effect on the environment. I think it all needs more planning."

Adil Dadan, 23, from Hounslow, said: "I think it's very good. I don't worry about the pollution because London is a very pollution-free city and I think it won't make any difference."

Winifred Osborne, 84, from Feltham said: "It's a disgrace. We'll never be able to get any peace. It's bad enough now, but luckily my hearing isn't too good. They will ignore everyone. They did with Terminal 5."

Alan Moore, 46, from Hounslow, said: "I think it's good for the community as the area has been pretty deprived of jobs. There are ups and downs that you have to weigh up. They will bring out quiet planes with less emissions, so it is always moving forwards."