Book retailers have hit out at airport operator BAA's decision to grant exclusive rights to WHSmith to operate all specialist bookshops in its London airports.

BAA has not renewed its contract with Borders, while Hughes and Hughes’ Heathrow Terminal 5 contract will be terminated. The change will enable WHSmith to run all 10 specialist bookshops at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. A phased handover begins on March 1.

One senior member of the team at a books retailer branded the decision “very depressing”. He said: “It is reducing choice for the consumer and squeezing out independents.”

Irish bookseller Hughes and Hughes opened two shops at Terminal 5 in March last year. Hughes and Hughes managing director Tony McEntee said: “We were surprised. We went into the UK with a view to expanding. This puts a halt to our gallop and has forced us to focus on the market in Ireland.” The retailer still has a bookshop in London City airport.

Other booksellers are also angry about the decision. One said “doing business in airports can be extremely lucrative” and that “BAA has agreed to monopolistic arrangements with WHSmith”.

BAA head of categories, books and entertainment Jonathan Coen said the decision was based on a variety of criteria. He said: “Shoppers want a choice of books and the right shopping environment. We put the customer first and felt this decision was appropriate.”

A WHSmith spokeswoman declined to comment, other than saying: “We are always looking for opportunities.”

WHSmith’s travel stores sales jumped 20 per cent in the 20 weeks to January 17.