Friday, August 14, 2009

Invest in stronger regions and local communities rather than subsidise Bristol Airport expansion

Letter objecting to the application to expand Bristol International Airport sent today:

The forecasting process that is behind the planning application to expand Bristol International Airport (ref 09/P/1020/OT2) is highly inaccurate and in any case the wrong approach to take. Projections of passenger numbers look increasingly ridiculous in the light of both economic and environmental contexts. Government is in denial as they persist with their forecast figures for more flying, modified only slightly. Generally the air travel industry is, in contrast, more realistic: in the last year or so numbers using UK airports fell by 6.4 million (13%) according to Civil Aviation Authority figures; the head of easyJet, Andy Harrison, told journalist and campaigner George Monbiot that ‘there was no point in expanding airports outside the south-east because the demand wouldn’t materialise’.

The forecasting process and plans for airport expansion are hopelessly out of tune with environmental targets. In the Climate Change Act the UK sets a target of reducing carbon emissions from 1990 levels by at least 80% by 2050 – this reduction cannot be achieved if we keep expanding air travel. Such legislation, if it is to mean anything in practice, means we should be backcasting instead of forecasting, that is plan out how to achieve the scenario that is necessary and desirable by working back to determine the actions we need to take from now. Bristol airport flights already produce a ‘city scale’ half a millions tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions which we should be reducing eg by refusing planning permission to expand airport capacity.

Bristol International Airport already has significant negative impacts on people, the economy and the environment. Noise levels and noise event frequency should be cut from current levels. Parking in the green belt for cars is already significant, money lost to the region is high as many more people take their money abroad to spend than arrive here to spend (£700 million per yr is lost in UK as a whole), traffic levels on local roads are already at far too high a level. All of this points to refusing planning permission for airport expansion and moving to a different, green pattern of economic and social development focussed on building strong regions and local communities.

Many in the industry feel the 13% drop in numbers using UK airports is not just a short term trend and that expansion plans are thus not viable. Airport operator BAA has delayed its plans for a second runway at Stansted for example. British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair want BAA reduce the £900m Gatwick upgrade because they have serious doubts about the business case. National and regional government has been attempting to accelerate any natural trend for people to fly more despite its warm words on fighting climate change. In the past ten years government agencies have spent £80m on helping private enterprise to increase the number of flights. The South West Regional Development Agency has spent £19m on extending the airport terminals at Bristol and Bournemouth, aircraft parking at Exeter and airport works at Plymouth and Newquay. This has encouraged people to fly – and at the same time government have allowed train travel to become far too expensive and lacking in the most efficient technology. Its time this pattern of subsidy for air travel is reversed and with the South West Regional development Agency saying ‘The relationship between high growth sectors in the region and air travel appears to be weak’ and with their board agreeing not ‘to make any further investment in airports for the purpose of increased passenger capacity’ perhaps they are on board for another, greener pattern of development now.

The economics of expanding air travel are dubious eg in 2007, before the airline crisis began, total air transport turnover in the UK was £20bn. Aviation accounted for 0.78% of total business turnover, a smaller proportion than the machinery rental sector, according to government statistics!! The chief executive of the International Air Transport Association was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “Business habits are changing and corporate travel budgets have been slashed. Video conferencing is now a stronger competitor.” This comment is in tune with building a more sustainable future – be part of this by refusing the application to expand Bristol International Airport.

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