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Airport Expansions: The Green Debate

By: Kelly Fenn - Updated: 18 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Airport Expansions Air Flight Co2

Ever since mass air travel took off during the latter half of the twentieth century, the question of airport, runway and terminal expansion across the UK has been endlessly debated – by flight companies, local residents and environmental bodies alike – and is endlessly controversial.

While one camp argue that the ever increasing demand for air travel and services necessitates the continual expansion of key transport hubs, another argues the case for the environment; namely against the expansion of a practice that’s bad for air quality, contributes towards the greenhouse effect and encroaches on greenbelt land and other areas of beauty.

Here are some of the recent, and more controversial, plans and suggestions for airport expansions across the UK, what the specific green issues are and, crucially, how the environment looks to be affected in years ahead by these suggested airport expansions.

1. A Third Runway at Heathrow Airport

Perhaps the best known and most controversial airport expansion plan is that of London Heathrow airport, whose proposed third runway has generated heated debate between residents, environmentalists and the local community surrounding the airport alike. Regular direct action taken by environmental protesters against the proposed plans, which could see as many as 120 million passengers and 700,000 flights a year (up from 470,000 flights) pass though the airport, has helped root the issue firmly in the public eye. The green arguments against the expansion include:

  • Encroachment of the airport expansion into protected or greenbelt areas, and the proposed demolition of one church and eight Grade II listed buildings
  • Further noise and air pollution for nearby residents – over 57 decibels for an extra 50 local conurbations in the West London area
  • Flights from a third runway at Heathrow would generate as much CO2 as the entire country of Kenya (Figures from the World Development Movement)
  • Using carbon offsetting to justify or make allowances for the increased number of flights from the airport does not answer the problems the expansion poses for climate change or the greenhouse effect

2. Expansion of Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport has seen a steady year on year rise in passenger numbers, making it one of Europe’s fastest growing airports and leading to pressure for an extension of its runway to accommodate even further growth and demand for extra flights. Again, local residents have voiced concerns that their local community will be marred by worsening air quality and more noise and that the airport will be negatively contributing to the UK’s overall CO2 emissions.

3. Ten Million More Passengers a Year at London Stansted Airport

The government has already approved a measure lifting a cap on passenger numbers at the Essex-based airport. Currently, the airport serves 25 million passengers a year and accommodates many no-frills budget travel providers such as Easyjet and Ryanair. The lift could see an extra 120 flights a day, 10 million more passengers a year, and an extra runway to accommodate the extra volume of traffic.

Over 6,000 members make up the Stop Stansted Expansion group, a pressure group set up to put an end to the proposed plans and retain the surrounding countryside for the local residents of Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk. With the airport already responsible for around 4.3 million tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere every year, they argue that the expansion would have severe repercussions on the environment.

4. Scotland: Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow Airport Expansions

Plans to accommodate several thousand more air flights to Scotland – centred around Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports – are also afoot. The first stage of Glasgow’s expansion opened in 2008, comprised of a £30 million ‘Skyhub’ which enlarges the main departure hall and airport facilities. The plans have attracted environmental concerns, particularly the encroachment into surrounding countryside and increased distress to local residents.

According to pressure group Planestupid Scotland: “So much for much-hyped plans to reduce CO2 emissions - the Scottish Exec is determined to set runaway climate change into the tarmac…”

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