Southampton objects to runway extension

Environmental experts say economic benefits overstated and outweighed by damage to environment. House prices will drop under Flight Path Professor warns

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Planning and Rights of Way Committee. Pic courtesy: biternepark.info

Southampton City Council are objecting to plans to expand operations at Southampton Airport because they believe the economic benefits of increased activity at the airport are outweighed by environmental concerns.

Southampton International Airport – recently voted the most popular airport in Europe jointly with Zagreb (Croatia) and Tallin (Estonia) – is seeking permission to expand operations by extending the length of the runway and the creation of an extra 600 car parking spaces. A longer runway means that larger aircraft, carrying more passengers and capable of flying further will be able to use the airport which the airport say will boost the local economy and create more jobs but, objectors insist the advantages of the scheme have been overestimated while detrimental economic and environmental impacts have been understated.

As the Airport lies within Eastleigh’s boundary, the Borough Council are the responsible planning authority and must shortly decide on whether or not the airport expansion can go ahead. Although the decision will be taken by Eastleigh, Southampton City Council are statutory consultees and on Tuesday night (Jan 28) a special meeting of the SCC Planning and Rights of Way Committee was convened to consider a report on the airports proposals and decide on a response.

Over 70 letters from residents and local environmental groups had been received by the panel in advance of the meeting with the vast majority calling on Southampton to lodge an objection to planning application.

The submitted correspondence included a letter from the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour group and a five-page critique of the plans Environmental Impact Assessment by group of eminent academics who are experts in Environmental Science and Economics.

Carbon targets could be missed

In his letter to the panel, the Leader Cllr Christopher Hammond warned that according to the airport’s own projections future carbon emissions will rise on average by 350,000 tonnes a year thereby making it harder for the airport and the Council to meet the 2030 carbon neutral target that is part of Southampton’s ‘Green City Charter’ to which the airport is a co-signatory.

Cllr Hammond said the airport’s plans would “exacerbate the climate crisis, not end it” and urged the committee to object to the application.

Dozens of residents and activists from environmental groups had filled the public gallery to follow proceedings while some participated in the meeting and put their objections directly to the committee.

Among the speakers, was Felix Eigenbrod, a Professor of Applied Spatial Ecology in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Southampton. Professor Eigenbrod was one of five academics who had co-authored a letter to the committee along with an economist, Professor Christopher Heady. A graduate of Cambridge and Yale, Professor Heady has previously been consulted by the IMF and World Bank among many other leading International institutions. Given these credentials it was clear that the expert evidence presented by Professor Eigenbrod and his colleagues would weigh with the panel.

A key passage in the academics’ letter asserts that the additional carbon emissions caused by airport expansion would quickly exceed the total carbon produced by the entire Eastleigh area by 160% and by 2032 the effect of the extra emissions would be the equivalent of adding a town of 98,000 people. They concluded that “The magnitude of these climate impacts threatens to dwarf any climate mitigation efforts by Eastleigh Borough Council.”

In his comments to the panel Professor Eigenbrod summarised the academics written submission which focussed on the Environmental Impact Assessment of the planning application.

“Our conclusion is the economics assessment is deeply flawed. It is so deeply flawed that it is impossible to tell if the overall economic benefits are positive or actually negative.

“Firstly, it is important to note that the economics of ‘business as usual’ – that is no run way extension- are assessed to be £275 million by 2037. So, the maximum net effect of the extension based on the airports modelling is £125 million and not the £400 million headline figure.

Secondly, many of those benefits will not go into the local economy. Only a third of the spend currently by the airport is local. In fact, the airport spends eight times as much in London than it does in Southampton. There is no reason to think that this will change.

Third and most importantly, an increase in passengers won’t necessarily lead to an increase in employment which what is assumed in the assessment. It is a basic economic truth that expanding a business does not lead to a proportionate increase in the number of employees which is what the airport is predicting. Indeed Eastleigh’s economic development department has said that the proposed extension – we quote no significant gain of long term quality jobs for the local work force is currently identifiable’

Moreover, the airport has a track record of over estimating employment forecasts. In 2008 the airport promised 537 extra jobs by 2015 there was actually a net loss of 54 jobs. This suggests very few local jobs – if any – are likely to be generated by the proposed extension.

Most of the new flights are local people taking holidays abroad so much of the economic benefit will be abroad. Inward tourism is a tiny fraction of passengers hence will have a negligible impact on the local economy. Again, we are looking at negligible benefits of the expansion.

The airport also fails to consider the economic costs of the proposed extension, such as reduction in house prices under the flight path, lost productivity due to the traffic congestion which could be very substantial or impacts on health from air pollution. These major economic impacts on our region completely undermines the economic case for expansion.

If the guidance is that we should balance the economic case against the ecological than it’s pretty clear the council should object.“

COemissions “off the chart”

Local resident Angela Cotton produced a home-made bar chart which contrasted the amount of CO2emissions that the Airport proposes to save with the CO2 that will be produced by the aeroplanes using the airport, while another bar represented the amount of CO2 that could be saved by people using the airport rather than driving to Gatwick.

There were gasps as Cotton unfolded the chart as the bar representing aircraft emissions extended over multiple sheets of paper until it was almost six feet off the ground, while the bars representing the airports estimated emission savings reached just a few inches in height.

Angela Cotton said the chart illustrated that “There is no effective mitigation for the increase in carbon greenhouse gases.”

Concerns were raised by the Chair – and other panellists – that excessive aircraft noise could disrupt and adversely impact on young learners at Bitterne Park School which lies directly under the flight path.

In response Professor Eigenbrod quoted a WHO report that stated there were “strong links” between aircraft noise and reading and oral comprehension in Children.

Also in attendance at the meeting were all three City Councillors who represent Bitterne Park ward:  David Fuller, Ivan White and Rob Harwood who all sit as Conservatives.  Cllr Fuller spoke for all three in opposition to the expansion plan saying that an objection from Southampton “should be a significant advisor on the final decision by Eastleigh.”

Voicing “serious concerns about the information provided” the Councillor urged Committee members to consider the people represented by the numbers in the planning documents.

“The numbers in the documents talk about households and that makes it quite impersonal”

Cllr Fuller said that he had already experienced difficulties in maintaining a conversation with Bitterne Park residents who lived under the flight path and if flights increased in frequency there would be loss of quality of life.

The councillor pointed out that the area affected by flight noise set to increase and “thousands of residents who have bought houses currently not under flight paths will be suddenly affected by the changes being brought in by an organisation they have no control over.”

“To remain viable the runway must be extended”

Speaking in support of the application the Manging Director of Southampton Airport Neil Garwood told the committee that in order for the airport to remain viable the runway must be extended:

“By extending the runway we can provide the long-term stability and resilience for all those 2,300 jobs that rely on the airport for their existence and the continuation of the economic contribution that the airport provides.

Currently, the airport suffers from a serious competitive disadvantage and that is manifested by the fact that the short runway is not allowing the airport to work with other airlines rather than the small number we have at the current time. A longer runway allows us to diversify and provide resilience for the future and take a long-term view.”

Mr Garwood then outlined two possible scenarios unfolding if the runway was not extended. One scenario sees the airport operating as a business jet hub “with large numbers of noisy business jets flying in and out of the airport on regular basis” or else one in which the airport continues but with “a significant reduction in connectivity.”

New technologies will solve Climate Change

The Managing Director then seemed to advance a common argument frequently deployed to justify the unchecked continuation of climate damaging behaviours – that is to say the idea that climate change can be averted or mitigated by new, yet-to-be discovered technologies.

Mr Garwood began by saying “The aviation industry is on the cusp of a green revolution and it’s very possible that the aviation could harness new technology” adding “twenty years ago no one had heard of an iPhone [therefore] in 20 years-time aviation will be very different to what aviation is now.” before the Chair intervened with a request that the Managing Director re-focus his remarks on the planning application.

Decision time

Following public participation, the committee had to consider their response. Clearly minded to object, the question was whether they should make an outright objection or else lodge a ‘holding objection’ to seek clarification on matters. While the Conservative panel members showed an interest in lodging a holding objection this wasn’t supported by the Labour group and in the end a motion to object to the planning application was carried with the Conservatives deciding not to vote against it.

The agreed form of words were as follows:

We raise an objection because the planning application we have been consulted on fails to satisfy requirements particularly in respect of environmental and social impacts on the residents of Southampton, particularly in respect of noise. The economic benefits do not outweigh these concerns. The application and submission suffer from a lack of information.

Reacting to the decision Neil Garwood told Eastleigh News:

“The airport welcomes feedback from all our stakeholders. It’s been a very interesting discussion tonight. A lot of good points put forward we were looking forward to responding to them in detail which what a holding objection would have enabled us to do.

We will continue working with the Council – I think that’s a very important they are a key stakeholder for us and we look forward to a positive outcome as discussion progress over the next few months.”

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Objectors protesting prior to meeting at Southampton Civic Centre pic Eastleigh News

Gareth Narbed a spokesperson for the Airport Expansion Opposition Group (AXO) said.

“I’m very encouraged indeed. I think the most significant thing was in the final vote nobody voted against it. It unified the Conservatives and the Labour group which is very much down to Councillor Fullers very moving speech. It’s a very good unifier for Southampton that Labour and the conservatives have come together over this and it sends a powerful message to Eastleigh.”

Eastleigh Greens oppose plan

Members of Eastleigh Green Party who were in the public gallery also spoke to Eastleigh News and explained why they were opposed to the Airport expansion.

Activist Tracey Weeks was concerned that extending the car park by an extra 600 places will only add to existing traffic problems:

“Junction 5 [M27 Stoneham interchange] is already heavily congested and passengers want to drive to airport.

The benefit of the airport won’t be for people from Eastleigh it will be used by people driving into Eastleigh from elsewhere and adding to the congestion.”

Ron Meldrum – the Green Party candidate for Eastleigh in December’s General election – warned that the business arguments in favour of expansion came at a price:

‘We know that growth is killing the planet and if we persist in pursuing that model than we are going to achieve that sooner rather than later.  Mankind has a choice; do we want to carry on growing or do we want to look after ourselves?

Aviation fumes are carcinogenic; they cause cancer and lower air quality and people are more likely to have respiratory problems. We know that there are currently 110 people a year dying in Southampton due to bad air quality.”

The planning application is due to be considered by the Eastleigh Local Area Committee at a date yet to be decided. All nine committee members of the committee previously voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency though in a and exchange of emails with Eastleigh News following the climate declaration last July, Eastleigh’s Cabinet Member for the Environment Cllr Rupert Kyrle could not rule out council approval of airport expansion plans.

Meanwhile objectors will be heartened by the news that last week Uttlesford District Council voted down expansion plans for Stansted Airport on environmental grounds.

https://www.saffronwaldenreporter.co.uk/news/stansted-airport-expansion-rejected-by-councillors-1-6487893

Further coverage of this meeting including an audio file can be found here