A FREE council debate is to be held over whether or not the Royal Borough should continue the legal fight against Heathrow expansion plans - despite facing a large bill following the collapse of its initial challenge.

The borough was one of five councils that lost a High Court challenge to the plan for a third runway.

Now it could face substantial costs.

Executive Director of the pro-Heathrow expansion group Back Heathrow, Parmjit Dhanda said: “This is embarrassing for local council leaders, who have played fast and loose with tax-payers’ money and lost it all. They could instead have been negotiating how their boroughs would benefit from new jobs and apprenticeships.

“They should now get around the table and engage in the consultation process to help develop a regeneration project for local communities to be proud of, while also tackling noise and reducing our carbon footprint.”

But the reaction of Back Heathrow has angered Royal Borough leader Cllr Simon Dudley who said the council had been justified in taken the case to court, because so many residents had expressed significant concern about Heathrow expansion.

He said: "Back Heathrow is funded by Heathrow but I don't think it does them any favours - they should grow up."

He said there would now be a full and free debate at a council meeting in June to gauge councillors' views on whether the authority should commit to an appeal and risk further costs.

He said: "I will express my view during that debate. It will be a free debate at which everyone will be able to have their say."