Introducing environmental decision making
Introducing environmental decision making

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Introducing environmental decision making

5.3.7 Regional consultation on airport expansion

In July 2002, the DfT issued seven consultation documents representing the UK regions, detailing specific options for where and how airport growth might be accommodated, including the 28 options (24 South East plus 4 other regions) for airport expansion at 14 different locations within the UK. These options and locations were based on the South East and East of England Regional Air Service (SERAS) studies and the Regional Air Service (RAS) studies.

In these regional consultation documents, published collectively as ‘The Future Development of Air Transport in the United Kingdom’, the DfT made a strong case for airport expansion in the South East. It was stated that, for the South East, the expansion would result in £18 billion in direct quantifiable benefits, 80,000 new jobs and low air fares for everyone, while a constraint in development would mean that ‘return fights from the main South East airports, if no new runways were built by 2030, could cost on average around £100 more than today’. The figure of £18 billion is linked to an estimated capacity for the South East of 300 million passengers per annum. Note that even at this stage the pressure was very much on to meet the full capacity requirements as estimated in the SPASM modelling, with limited consideration of the responses to the original national consultation.

Interested public and organisational stakeholders were invited to make their views known on the seven consultation documents, via text responses to questions contained within the documents, or via the tick boxes of a summary National Opinion Poll questionnaire (internet- and paper-based).

Overall there were just under 500,000 responses, although the bulk (437,000) came through organised campaigns and/or petitions, with the South East providing 300,000 responses. The overwhelming message from the consultation was of opposition to airport expansion on the grounds of noise, air pollution, road congestion, loss of land and impact on the environment, wildlife and local community, yet business interests made a strong case for expansion based on socio-economic grounds.

Activity 23 Reading and listening to responses to the SERAS consultation

The audio programme, Consultation within the white paper, includes an outline of the consultation process as described by Department for Transport personnel, interviews with a selection of stakeholders made during this consultation phase and a critique of the process.

The readings below are the official responses to the SERAS consultation from five major organisations with an interest in airport expansion in the South East of England.

Read through the readings and make brief notes in your learning journal on the different responses described. Then listen to Consultation within the white paper and add to your notes by describing the other responses heard.

Extracts from BAA’s publication Responsible growth [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

BAA (British Airports Authority) owns and operates seven UK airports and also has stakes in several overseas airports. They are ‘the world’s leading airport company’.

The South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) is one of eight regional development agencies in the UK. They are ‘responsible for the sustainable economic development and regeneration of the South East of England – the driving force of the UK’s economy’.

Wandsworth Borough is in South West London and has a population of a little over a quarter of a million. It is one of 32 London boroughs. Wandsworth Borough Council is the local government body responsible for services within the borough.

Stop Stansted Expansion is a campaigning group opposed to the expansion of Stansted Airport. Their main objective is: ‘To contain the development of Stansted Airport within tight limits that are truly sustainable and, in this way, to protect the quality of life of residents over wide areas of Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk, to preserve our heritage and to protect the natural environment.’

Most UK towns and cities have a local Chamber of Commerce whose membership comprises local businessmen and women. They seek to represent the interests and support the competitiveness and growth of all businesses in their communities and regions. British Chambers of Commerce is the national collective of these groups. ‘The British Chambers of Commerce comprise a national network of quality-accredited Chambers of Commerce, all uniquely positioned at the heart of every business community in the UK and representing more than 135,000 businesses of all sizes in all sectors of the economy – equivalent to five million jobs.’

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Transcript: Consultation within the white paper

Consultation within the White Paper

Commentary
Once the preparatory studies to inform the white paper consultation were over it was time for the Department for Transport to put the show on the road. The regional consultation took place between July 2002 and 2003. Chris Cain and Mike Fawcett of the Airport Policy division recall the process:
Chris Cain
I remember four months of travelling round the country in a bit of a bandwagon – we had about eight or ten public exhibitions including, in some cases, quite major exhibitions in a small village in the Midlands. There was a proposal for a new site option in the Midlands and there were several additional exhibitions in the South East.We tried to set them up in locations which would be accessible for the people who would be affected by the proposals to come and have the opportunity to talk to Government officials and the consultants who'd been helping us to prepare the options and the analysis, so that they could ask questions to better inform any submissions they then made. We also ran a whole series of seminars for stakeholder groups organised in different regional levels, and I think there was probably about forty or fifty of those. There were questionnaire surveys, the information was made available extensively on the department's website, an awful lot of people were sent summary documents, we tried to advertise through the papers, we tried to make it as open and as widespread, in terms of awareness, as we possibly could, and use it as a vehicle to introduce people to the issues and where they could find more information. So that when, ultimately, they came to respond to the various consultation documents, they could do so on a well-informed basis.
Mike Fawcett
And this was something that was obviously happening at a number of different levels. I mean, on the one hand, you might be in one of these exhibitions – you might find yourself talking to a local resident who was just an ordinary member of the public – but you might also in especially in the seminars for stakeholders have a sort of quite in-depth technical, highly-informed discussion, so it was a consultation on a number of different levels.We tried to structure the material so that we were presenting the sort of basic proposition and basic options clearly, that, with supporting analysis in depth for those who wanted that and could use it, so it was bit like an onion skin in some ways – almost as painful too!Although in the consultation documents we didn't set out the full range of options we'd looked at, the reports on the formulating of options were all available in sort of hard copy and on the website so that if people wanted to sort of get more information, even on options that were not being put forward, they could see that and see the comparative appraisals had been done.
Commentary
In March 2003, we interviewed some of the stakeholders who were party to the consultation at Stansted. What follows is what they had to say about the consultation when it was in full flow.Even then it was clear to some stakeholders that, while the technical discussions on the various options may have taken place at a range of levels, some of the options put to the regions to consider were being seen as options for expansion of aviation nationally, which would have impacts way beyond the regions being consulted.Mark McClennan, an independent environmental and aviation consultant, described the options on the table for the Stansted consultation:
Mark McClennan
Nationally, there are various options and the consultation exercise deals initially with regional options.The South East is arguably the most pressing in terms of the allocation of those options, because traditionally that's where the big airports have grown, in the South East of England, so obviously we're considering Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, but also potential new airport options.The role of Stansted in all this is critical, in so far that the Government consultation options provide the consideration for up to three new runways, which is a huge potential expansion.The addition of a single runway to an airport is a huge expansion all by itself, so new runways are potentially now proposed for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted; now that sort of increase in infrastructure is a huge project and clearly has very significant environmental and social consequences, so in consideration of that huge increase in capacity, clearly there has to be a number of questions asked about what that will do, both positively and negatively – both regionally and what effect that will have nationally.There's an interesting debate now about how much regional aviation should be accommodated, so if you live in the North West of England, the North East of England, the Midlands, ought those regions not to provide more facilities and capacity for residents rather than having people as traditionally has been the case in England, travel to the South East to make their journeys abroad?
Commentary
The stakeholders taking part in the consultation represented various different interest groups, each of whom brought their own agenda to the process.Natalie Blaken represented the East of England Development Agency.
Natalie Blaken
Airports are a fundamental piece of infrastructure for a modern economy, they're a clear economic driver, for economic growth particularly in the East of England where we have a strong knowledge-based economy.The second point of that is that it is a catalyst for job growth, although generally in the East of England we are doing very well there are particular areas within our regions which do suffer from economic need, and are identified as priority areas for economic regeneration, and these particularly relate to places like Harlow, the Lea valley and Luton and Dunstable, which have locations close to airports.In terms of economic growth as well, airports do provide an attractive inward investment offer; if we can offer more international connections then clearly it provides an additional offer to businesses, and we also need to provide for freight and cargo for our businesses.So there are four primary drivers there which would necessitate airport expansion.
Commentary
But not everybody agreed about the economic benefits to the region that expansion at Stansted would bring. Mark McClennan again:
Mark McClennan
The current setup at Stansted probably provides fairly robust capacity to provide regional needs. The problem comes when as part of the London airport system, Stansted will be considered as an important contributor to that overall system in the South East and nationally. Then the arguments start that well, increased capacity at Stansted don't bring necessarily with them important economic ingredients; it could be argued that the region currently is well off economically and therefore doesn't really need new transport links, but I think the reality is that Stansted is being considered as part of potentially increasing national capacity, and I think the debate at Stansted needs to take place in that context.
Commentary
Certainly some regional stakeholders felt that the impacts of expansion aimed at increasing national capacity had no justification regionally.Norman Mead was the General Secretary of Stop Stansted Expansion:
Norman Mead
The wider aspect is of induced development: the impact of that on the rural areas here.Airport development on the one hand and what it will induce, what it will need to accommodate all the people it employs from the airport expansion itself, from Mr Prescott's perishing pre-fabs as some people call them, the quarter of a million low cost houses that have got to be accommodated somewhere in this area, all of this we feel would have a very adverse affect on an area of low unemployment, and high economic activity. We're not a depressed area at all; we're a successful area, in many senses – why do we need all this?
Commentary
Even those promoting the benefits of airport expansion recognised that these had to be balanced with any environmental consequences. Natalie Blaken again:
Natalie Blaken
The East of England Development Agency is looking to maximise the economic and social benefits of airport expansion. But certainly within environmental constraints, we're not promoting growth at any cost.We have been speaking to businesses within the regions who are very keen to secure the quality of environment they have at the moment. They live and work within the region and the quality of environment that we offer in the East of England is very important in terms of attracting inward investment, so it's not growth at any cost, and it has to be assessed against all the remits of sustainable development.So from the East of England Development Agency's point of view, we haven't gone for full growth at all of the airports – we have taken a view as to what are the economic and social benefits of airport expansion, measured against those environmental consequences.
Commentary
But there was no getting away from the fact that the environmental consequences of airport expansion on the scale being considered at Stansted would be vast. Mark McClennan:
Mark McClennan
There's no doubt that the expansion of any airport, the provision of any significant new infrastructural development like a runway or a terminal, brings with it very significant environmental consequences.We're looking at very major development projects here, so the development itself is going to cause ecological landscape issues. The issues that local people will be most concerned with of course is the increase in noise, and potential consequences on local air quality. And there can be no argument that, with expanded airports, with new runways, those problems become more severe, and those are problems which clearly need to be addressed, as a consequence of, and a significance of that expansion.
Commentary
As well as the environmental impacts on people from noise and pollution, Norman Mead was also concerned about the impacts on heritage and biodiversity in the area around Stansted.
Norman Mead
If you take the standard environmental features, heritage features of Uttlesford – be they listed buildings, conservation areas, areas of landscape value areas, listed lanes, protected hedgerows, all of those things – and you tot them up, and you do the same for the other 14 districts of Essex, this district of Uttlesford is either top of the list or in second place on every count and it does give a measure of what is at risk, the irreplaceable assets of our heritage, that will be wiped away.Current proposals here wipe away 64 listed buildings for a start; just like that. And Hatfield Forest on the perimeter of all this would be untenable as a recreational area, a scientific area which it is, a site of special scientific value, those are the irreplaceable assets which are at risk in Uttlesford.
Mark McClennan
I think the problem with local arguments is that they end up in 'not in my back yard' NIMBY-type arguments. And my advice and I think my view on local participation in the debate and the consultation is 'be involved', I think it really makes a difference that local voices are heard both at local and national level, but I also would encourage people to think beyond their own backyard.Clearly, most people given a situation where they are going to be subject to increased noise, potential effects on local air quality, property blight, are going to oppose infrastructural development, but I think what's interesting there is that those people have also got to take a view on aviation in general and strategy nationally.So I think there needs to be answers to two questions: if you don't think that new infrastructure should be provided local to Stansted, should that capacity be made available somewhere else, and if so, where should that capacity be?
Norman Mead
We are concerned to protect our local environment here to the point that we are often referred to as NIMBYs and I say, yes of course we are. But it isn't my backyard, it's thousands of backyards that we are protecting here, and this has to be taken into account. Locally we know what's at stake and we are defending it. Nationally, we work with others, there's an organisation, Airport Watch, which is under the Airport Environment Federation in London, and we meet periodically and discuss what emerge as joint problems – the proposals for major inland airports, be they here, Gatwick, Heathrow, Cliff, Coventry. It is a matter I think of sustainability at the end of the day. As you well know that's a very hackneyed word, and I always recite something that came from the Department for the Environment. It's a matter of balancing environmental impacts with economic advantage – and importantly giving a positive legacy of opportunity and quality of life for future generations.I think all these things are there when one talks about sustainability.It may well be that no options are sustainable in the true sense of those words.
Commentary
So even as the consultation process itself was under way, some stakeholders were already signalling that the debate should have been national rather than regional. Mark McClennan again:
Mark McClennan
It's really a national debate on the role of aviation generally; is aviation technology a good idea? If it's a good idea is it a good idea to make it widely and cheaply accessible? If that is a good idea to have cheap, very easily accessible aviation, what impacts does that have both economically and environmentally and socially?
Commentary
Regional pressure groups like Stop Stansted Expansion had begun to marshal arguments questioning the assumptions for growth which had been used in the options presented to the consultation. Norman Mead:
Norman Mead
The industry does not recover its external costs completely. People are concerned that it pays no VAT on aircraft fuel, on aircraft purchases, on aircraft spares, and on anything that operates on the air side of an airport.They're concerned that it pays no environmental tax at all. They are concerned that the current figures are artificially influenced by the cheap flight airlines, and do not see the economics of that in the long term, so we feel that the demand has been artificially stimulated by these cheap flights. The bubble may well burst and thus we feel we should look very much more closely at the figures quoted here over the next few years.But nonetheless we recognise that demand will increase. Ee're saying, make best use of present facilities as stage one, and here, this worries us a bit, because the Government's declared policy is the full use of all of all existing facilities before any new runways are built, and we're concerned and we're waiting to see the impact of the 25 million passengers-worth of activity that is currently authorised here, let alone the 40 that will come from the full use of the single runway.
Commentary
The pressures on the Government from those outside the regional consultation were fast becoming apparent to Mark McClennan.
Mark McClennan
Industry has responded with a very large lobbying effort to Government under the banner of Freedom to Fly, where it's pointed out in no uncertain terms to Government the benefits that the industry feels that it brings, and the requirement that it has for new infrastructure capacity.So that coalition, organisations like the CBI, are making very strident noises to Government that this new airport capacity, particularly in the South East is required, they recognise that it brings with it environmental issues, they want those issues to be recognised and managed, but nevertheless to press full steam ahead on wholesale development.At the other end of the debate, and I would take Jonathan Porritt and Forum for the Future as good examples of this position, which would say that predict and provide is thoroughly discredited, if aviation were to take this strategy on board it would be a fallacious strategy and indeed, what Forum for the Future would be suggesting is a much more targeted demand-managed led approach, which would very much look at the current economics of the way aviation operates and it would argue that at the moment the industry does not pay it's external environmental costs – and I think a lot of debate is about if and how the industry can do that.Much is made of the fact that the industry is exempt from aviation fuel tax, and it's in fact very unlikely that, there'll ever be agreement on aviation fuel tax, but leaving that aside, there are many other mechanisms that could be brought into place, which would ensure that aviation would meet those environmental costs, and I think that's going to be a very important part of the debate, and is certain to be considered in the White Paper.
Commentary
So after the consultation had wound up and the White Paper finally landed, how did the critics react?Peter Ainsworth MP – chair of the Commons Environmental Audit committee – questions the value of the whole consultation process.
Peter Ainsworth
I think what happened was that the prompt that got the whole Aviation White Paper process under way was the industry's desire to grow and to meet demand, and as a result it was that purpose which the entire process was set up to serve.And one wonders about the value of a consultation when the direction that the Government was clearly taking was so set, the course was so set already that actually it was going to be, always going to be virtually impossible for anyone who wanted to shift the trajectory in a different direction to make any impact at all, and so we had a huge cumbersome regional consultation process around an issue where I think the mindset had already gelled before the thing got under way.
Commentary
Richard Dyer, Aviation Officer for Friends of the Earth, agrees that a lengthy and detailed consultation process – which elicited a vast response – in the end seems to have had no bearing on the outcome of the White Paper itself.
Richard Dyer
I think the Government could have been more honest about the issues like the economics.The fact that there is a down side to aviation growth and a vast number of people did reply to the consultation. I believe it was the largest response ever seen to a public consultation. And many of those would be we know were raising big concerns about the Government's approach which not much notice seems to have been taken of that in the government's thinking in the White Paper.They talked broadly about wanting to make aviation sustainable before the White Paper was published, but there is not really a lot of evidence of that in the finished article. It's pretty much a predict and promote because the government doesn't directly provide the infrastructure so we call it predict and promote. They actually forecast the growth and pretty much decided to meet all of it, which is a very different approach to the one they traditionally had applied to road transport, where demand management isn't really an effective sort of plank of public policy.If you recalculate the growth projections based on aviation fuel being taxed and VAT being added to aviation, which isn't paid at the moment, you see dramatically different growth figures and the Government's own computer model shows that. And they did those calculations before the White Paper was published, but there was no mention of that process or those new projections in the White Paper itself.That could have been a choice that people had to make in the consultation, because the figures were so dramatically different for including those assumptions about taxation that it actually meant that no runways would need to be built. But those choices weren't presented to people in the consultation – if we applied fair taxation to aviation we would be looking at a completely different story.
End transcript: Consultation within the white paper
Consultation within the white paper
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