13 Jul 2008

Economic benefits of airports unproven: think again on Staverton

News that South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) withdraws support for airport expansion because economic benefits unproven is another blow for Staverton expansion plans - and for that matter other airports we've campaigned to stop expanding like Bristol.

The regional development agency has concluded that there is not enough proof of the economic benefits from airport expansion and will not be putting any further funding into expanding the region’s airports.

The news of this decision has been broken yesterday by campaigners opposing airport expansion in the South West after we obtained the information from the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Gloucestershire Airport Action Group of which I am apart, is part of the AirportWatch South West coalition (AWSW), the umbrella for groups opposing expansion at six airports in the South West. We have strongly welcomed SWRDA’s verdict ruling out any further support by the development agency for expansion at the South West’s airports. SWRDA’s report on sustainable aviation policy, prepared by economic and social development consultants EKOS questioned 'whether any RDA investment in airports can be reconciled with ‘economic growth’ within environmental limits” and went on to admit that “air travel may not necessarily be a pre-requisite for economic growth,” and “the relationship between high growth sectors in the region and air travel appears to be weak.'"

The report includes measures of economic importance such as direct and indirect employment. It shows that in the longer term, employment at airports will actually fall between 2015 and 2030, as efficiency improvements such as automatic check-ins will “reduce employment densities.” It concludes: “We estimate that employment growth will not be linear to passenger growth.” Based on this report, SWRDA’s Board agreed not to “make any further investments in airports for the purpose of increasing passenger capacity.” They also agreed to actively support measures for “greening” airport operations such as improved surface access, particularly by public transport, and said they would lobby specifically for improved rail connections from the South West to London Heathrow.

Another blow for Staverton expansion plans

Here are some of the quotes below from the press release I sent out (see press release here):

Spokesperson Neil Marshall, from campaign Concerned residents Against Staverton Expansion (CASE) says: “Staverton airport’s plans are not about safety, the agenda is expansion. Their own business plan talks about introducing more and bigger planes allowing for passenger services. Our local Airport even took to calling themselves ‘Gloucestershire International Airport’ for a while. The services the airport seek to introduce are contrary to this welcome news from the SWRDA.”

Neil Marshall went on to say, “We have always been told that the economic benefits of airport expansion outweigh the considerable environmental impacts of noise, traffic and climate changing emissions. This report makes it clear that not even the local development agency now believes this and have stopped putting money into airport expansion. However, it’s a pity they have not told anyone but the airports about this in the six months since they made the decision.

Kevin Lister, of Plain Stupid and one of the key organisers of last years "Camp Hope" protest against Staverton's expansion plans, said: “This vindicates the position that we have been taking all along. We have previously pointed out that on the basis of the Staverton Airports Business Plan, it will take over 20 years for the investment to be paid off, during which time, the council tax payers of Gloucestershire will be liable for any default on the loans.”

Philip Booth, a Stroud District councillor (Green) added: “The SWRDA still needs to recognise that airports can never be genuinely “green” while they continue to increase the amount of climate damaging emissions they produce. Our local airport’s plans for a ‘Green Policy’ are similarly suspect. We are calling on the SWRDA to actively fund greener alternatives to air travel and to work to oppose further expansion at the region’s airports.”

Richard Conibere, coordinator of Cheltenham Friends of the Earth (FoE) says: “The regional government’s plans to impose thousands of new homes on our town are already causing consternation. Though this housing madness continues it’s good to see that the SWRDA are at least beginning to see the light on aviation. Though geared up for take off, it’s time for Staverton’s expansion plans to power down and return to the hangar”

It is great that this SWRDA's report shows clearly that the high growth industries that airports
say they want to bring in are not the economic drivers everyone thought - not a surprise to us campaigners - it also shows that the airport's themselves may make some money but the environment - local and global - pays huge sacrifices. They also may be putting money into "greening" airports - but there's no such thing as an environmentally friendly airport.

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