A government consultation paper on runway capacity in the South East misled the public over the strength of alternative proposals for new airports in the Thames Gateway area.
Now the local authorities aviation group SASIG is calling on ministers to halt publication of the aviation white paper expected on December 17 so that it can include the additional airport options in a new consultation.
SASIG chairman Richard Worrall said:
'The consultation appears loaded in favour of piecemeal and unrelenting expansion at existing sites. It did not give the public the chance to consider whether a brand new airport in an area of low population where very few people would be affected might provide the answer.
'Ministers knew when they published their revised consultation paper in February this year that both Sheppey and Thames Reach were closer rivals to Heathrow than Cliffe - but still they left them out. This country needs a new airport if we are all to enjoy the benefits of flying without destroying the lives of residents around Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. The Thames Gateway Growth Area is the ideal location.'
Wandsworth LBC leader Edward Lister added:
'We're not saying any one airport is the best option. Our concern throughout has been to show that there are alternatives to the industry's favoured approach of yet more expansion at Heathrow.
'We believe the department has misled the public in the way it arrived at its short list. It is almost as if Cliffe was set up to fail. The public need to know that there are other more viable proposals for new airports in the Thames Gateway. The DfT spent a lot of time working up the Cliffe scheme. It should have done the same for the other two instead of keeping them hidden.'
Berkeley Hanover's research also showed that the DfT had consistently overstated the economic benefits of Heathrow and had failed to calculate the full cost of dealing with its environmental problems.
The economic case for Cliffe was down-played with little account taken of the potential for passengers to arrive via the Channel Tunnel rail link which is running below capacity and is already a major drain on public funds.
But while a fairer cost-benefit analysis would have had the effect of making Cliffe more attractive, the inclusion of Sheppey and Thames Reach could have demonstrated the superiority over Heathrow, and other expansion options at Gatwick or Stansted, to an even greater extent.
Both these alternatives would also have a substantial impact on the viability of the Channel Tunnel rail link - but again the DfT's analysis of economic benefits understates this.
Legal advisers for the local authorities have now written to transport secretary Alistair Darling identifying the very serious flaws in the consultation and calling on him to defer publication of the white paper so that the public can have a chance to comment on the best of the new airport sites.
The government's South East Regional Air Services study (SERAS) was first published in 2002. Consultation was re-started in February 2003 after ministers were ordered by the high court to include Gatwick as an option for expansion.