29 Nov 2008

Staverton Airport: join the peaceful protest against their expansion plans

This is an update on the Staverton Airport campaign - things are hotting up again - on Tuesday 2nd December a vital meeting will take place, determining Gloucester City Council's support or rejection of Staverton's expansion plans. Local campaigners have been granted an opportunity to make the case against at the meeting and there will be a chance to ask public questions too. The Airport has been appealing for its supporters to attend the meeting so we will be there to redress the balance.

With the meeting starting at 6:00, all are invited to join for a peaceful gathering on the steps of the Council building from 5:30. The theme for the event is to highlight the poor environmental and economic case for the airport expansion plan. We will present councillors with leaflets featuring a parody cheque highlighting the cost of the development and its potential impact on local tax payers (see image).

Why the cheques?

The airport is intent on spending millions on expansion at a time when we are heading for recession, many airlines are reporting losses or going bankrupt, and aviation markets are shrinking. The Staverton scheme is to be funded by government loans and if (or when) the airport's plans fail to blossom it is local councils and hence local council tax payers who will be liable for the debts. This is happening on top of recent multi-million pound losses by local councils because of the collapse of Iceland's banks. To this sorry mix we can of course add the environmental arguments too - Gloucestershire Airport's runway extension means bigger planes and private jets with more pollution, more greenhouse gas emissions and more noise.

The peaceful protest has been organised primarily by the residents group CASE and FoE - join the meeting at 5:30 at the Gloucester County Council offices, North Warehouse, the Docks, Gloucester, GL1 2EP. Please come if you can. For transport from Cheltenham please contact Richard (Friends of the Earth) on 01242 693663 cheltenhamfoe (at) yahoo.co.uk

Leading Green joins the battle

Meanwhile Ricky Knight, Green party lead Euro candidate 2009 has just written the letter below re Staverton Airport to all Glos City, Chelt and Tewk councillors.

Planning Applications still not submitted

The planning applications submitted by the airport have still not been considered by the Tewkesbury Borough Council planning committee. As soon as the committee date and the planning officers recommendations are published we will send an update with the details of the committee members so that you can contact them directly and make your views known. Clearly the planners see the expansion as an issue, as they have spent almost two years (since Dec 2006) analysing the applications to judge if, and to what extent, there will be 'intensification'.

Noise complaints

Over the last month I have had a couple of people pick up the campaign against Staverton's expansion plans on this blog and contact me concerned about noise levels - one guy says the noise is so that he cannot sit outside his home - and is deeply worried about plans for more planes. Remember that noise complaints can now be submitted online using the
Airport's website. The home page is at: www.gloucestershireairport.co.uk
and the noise complaint form is at: www.gloucestershireairport.co.uk/LogComplaint.php

If complaints are not made the airport will claim that their operations do not cause a noise nuisance. It only takes a moment to log a complaint, whether it is an out of hours incident, something particularly low or loud, or repeated circuits.

Ricky's letter

Dear Councillor,

Re: the four airport applications are 06/01668/FUL, 06/01669/FUL, 06/01670/FUL, 06/01671/FUL

The Government’s environmental watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), recently released a report recommending to put airport decisions on hold. I hope this will mean a reassessment of local planning and other issues in particularly relating to the above planning applications.

The report entitled "Contested Evidence: The case for an independent review of aviation policy” follows up on its May 2008 Report "Breaking the Holding Pattern" and puts the Government under increased pressure to review its plans for airport expansion around the country (i). The report’s authors believe that currently the risks of decisions in favour of expansion outweigh the possible benefits.

Since then we have also seen the UK government's Climate Change Bill which mandates an 80% cut in CO2 emissions. Barack Obama has also stated that this will be his position. A cut of this size in emissions is not compatible with any significant aviation industry, much less any attempt to make further investments in airports.

Gloucestershire Airport has repeatedly attempted to hold the line that their 'project is about safety, not expansion'. However the evidence is clear that this is not the whole story.

The Joint Airport Scrutiny Working Group, along with the Airport's previous Business Plans, clearly show that there is planned growth in flights and particularly more of the largest aircrafts currently using Staverton. The business traffic at the airport is already expanding exponentially, even without the 160m extension to the main runway and the ILS. From just 69 movements in 2002, then 293, 257 274, 449 and 797 in years 2003/4/5/6/7 according to the figures published by the CAA.

Indeed in a recent job for the airport they write: "Significant operational developments are also planned, including removing obstacles from the runway ends and installing ILS, further enhancing commercial capabilities." The Airport even took to calling themselves ‘Gloucestershire International Airport’ for a while.

Yet the Airport's plans to increase flights is incompatible with tackling climate change. We must reduce CO2 emissions by 80% at least if we are to tackle climate change. Indeed we have no alternative. However, even if we set aside that crucial argument, the rest of the business case for expansion just does not stack up.

You will no doubt be aware that the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) has withdrawn support for airport expansion because there is not enough proof of the economic benefits from airport expansion.

We have always been told that the economic benefits of airport expansion outweigh the considerable environmental impacts of noise, traffic and climate changing emissions. Now even the local development agency does not believe this and have have said they will not be putting any further funding into expanding the region’s airports.The SWRDA’s report states 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."

Airport campaigners 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. Given the Credit Crunch, it makes no sense to impose further financial risk on the tax payer, especially for such a large investment which will benefit so few people.

There is also a claim that feedback received from local businesses has been supportive to expanding the airport. Yet this does not tally with other evidence. The main employers of the region such as GCHQ make no use of the airport. In fact WWF research shows that progressive businesses are already beginning to turn away from flying in favour of green alternatives such as train travel and videoconferencing.

Furthermore the report is based on out-of-date oil prices and a failure to accept that, while oil prices have come down recently, virtually all forecasts indicate oil price rises. Goldman Sachs have even suggested that oil could reach $200 a barrel next year.

Gloucestershire has a proud aviation heritage, let us hope the County can now take a lead in common sense.

Cllr Ricky Knight, Green party lead Euro candidate 2009,
Bishops Tawton
North Devon

(i) The report concludes: "The context itself has changed markedly since the 2003 Air Transport White Paper was produced. Climate change science has advanced significantly, and the Stern Review has framed the debate on the economic case for early action...The Climate Change Act will set carbon budgets... If the 2050 target is increased to a reduction of 80% compared to 1990 levels then, on the basis of those projections, aviation would account for over 70% of UK emissions...The economic downturn and soaring fuel prices have hit the number of business and leisure flights, and public attitudes to flying are more ambivalent..."

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