CAMPAIGNERS have forced the Government into an embarrassing U-turn on Heathrow expansion over claims its proposals could breach race laws.

Ministers have agreed to review plans to end the Cranford Agreement, which prevents easterly departures from the airport's northern runway.

Opponents had threatened to take legal action over the move, claiming it fell foul of race equality legislation by disproportionately affecting the large percentage of ethnic minority groups living in the town.

Hounslow Race Equality Council (REC) and Friends of the Earth even lodged judicial review proceedings at the High Court, only to withdraw them after the Government's about-face.

The Government's review is expected to include a full assessment of the race, gender and disability impact of increasing Heathrow's capacity by nearly 50 per cent to 700,000 flights a year.

Satvinder Buttar, director of Hounslow REC, said: "We were very disappointed by the Government's initial response to the serious issues we raised and are delighted it has changed its position as a result of our actions.

"It's important the Government considers all the impacts of its expansion proposals for Heathrow, including unequal impacts on the communities nearest the airport.

"We will be keeping a close eye on how the assessment is carried out."

The Department for Transport (DfT) acknowledged in its Race Equality Scheme 2005-8 that expanding Heathrow could disproportionately affect ethnic minority groups.

However, that possibility was not mentioned in its consultation document released last November, prompting Hounslow REC to take legal action.

The Cranford Agreement was introduced in 1952 because residents were so close to the northern runway they feared take-offs could be unbearably noisy.

However, the undertaking was never officially documented and BAA wants to end it to allow greater use of the existing runways.

A DfT spokesman confirmed it was reviewing its draft Impact Assessment to help inform its policy decision alongside the consultation responses.

Meanwhile, it emerged this week that the M25 would fall within the 'public safety zone' surrounding the proposed third runway.

The zone exists to reduce the number of casualties in the event of a crash and the number of people living, working or congregating within its boundaries are supposed to be kept to a minimum.

It also emerged a staggering 70,000 people had their say on controversial plans to expand Heathrow.

The figure, which emerged during a recent Commons debate, is nearly four times as many as aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick had previously admitted.

It equates to more than 700 responses a day during the 14-week consultation period, which closed on February 27 - despite critics claiming the Government's survey was almost impossible to understand.