Leigh’s No To Airport Plan

SOUTHEND Airport’s ambitious plans for expansion have suffered a setback with Leigh Town Council making it clear that their option is for low growth — maintaining the ‘status quo’.

It has always been accepted that homes in Leigh will be most affected by the increased traffic — which could amount to up to 40 passenger flights a day – and the fact that Leigh Council, which represents more than 21,000 residents has taken this early stance will be looked as a setback for the airport’s plans.

Councillors not only opted for the ‘status quo’ but also rejected the vision for the airport and surrounding area drawn up Southend and Rochford Councils’ Joint Area Action Group.

Only a handful of residents were at last week’s meeting — full report on page 8 — but it is understood that local Southend councillors are coming under pressure from residents to support this line.

The leader and deputy leader of Southend Council, Nigel Holdcroft and John Lamb represent West Leigh which is right under the flight path.

Leigh Council’s stand on this issue will be reported to the Joint Area Action Group under the first stage of the consultation process.

There will be another consultation process later in the years when the group will be putting forward their preferred opinion.

Options

The options include low growth, medium growth and high growth. The latter involves lengthening the runway and achieving two million passengers a year much quicker than the other options.

Regional Airports Limited, which operates Southend Airport, announced earlier this year that it was looking for a buyer to take over its operating lease and said this would be known by June 30 — but no announcement has been made yet.

London City Airport was said to be the front runner — but Leigh Council’s decision last week coincided with an announcement by Newham Council that has set back London City’s plans for expansion at their Docklands site.

It was expected that the council would accept their officers’ report giving the go-ahead for traffic movements to be raised from 80,000 to 120,000 a year, which the airport wanted to do in response to the Covernment’s Aviation White Paper urging airports to make maximum use of existing runways. This would have meant the airport handling 3.9m passengers by 2010.

There was a late representation, though, from the Mayor of London requesting that the decision be delayed until after the study by the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) had been published into how the airport expansion plans might impact on the town planning case for the Thames Gateway Bridge.

Buyer

In the meantime there has been no news as to when a preferred buyer for the Southend Airport operating lease would be named.

There is great uncertainty in the aviation industry at present over the high fuel costs, with many airlines announcing they will be cutting back on services.

Leigh Council knocks back Airport expansion plan

LEIGH Town Council have voted — but not overwhelmingly — for a ‘status quo’ at Southend Airport.

This means low growth — ‘do minimum’ — which will not please those hoping for a resurgence of the airport to boost the regeneration of Southend.

Leigh’s decision came at the end of a long debate of the full council last Wednesday, attended by a less than a dozen residents.

AIRPORT DEBATE

It is part of the consultation process that has been carried out over the last month and will now be reported to Southend and Rochford Councils’ Joint Area Action Group, which is looking at ways of developing the airport estate and the area around it.

It will then be considered along with the responses from other organisations and individuals before the Joint Area Action Group go to the next stage of the consultation process when they will nominate their own preference of the four options being put forward.

These are:

Low growth — do minimum.

Medium growth — with limited investment focused towards maintenance of existing facilities. Passenger traffic would remain a marginal function of the business.

Medium growth — Aviation cluster. The aim would b to develop a passenger-based market of up to two million passengers a year without extending the runway, but providing new infrastructure in the way of a new station and hotel.

High growth, which would mean extending the runway allowing the airport to reach its target of two million passengers a year much earlier.

There were splits within Leigh Council during the course of the debate and at the end a named vote was taken because it was felt necessary with such an important decision.

The tone of the debate was set very early on when councillors voted 6-3, with two abstentions, to reject the vision for the airport and its surrounding area because it did not take into account the impact of the vision on a wider area — particularly Leigh.

At this point, Coun Mike Dolby said he couldn’t really see the point of any further debate, because if the council rejected the vision they more or less ruled out any expansion of the airport.

Former chairment of the council, Peter Dolby and Bill Abbot were not keen to take such an inflexible approach to the plans.

Coun Peter Dolby ruled out any grandiose plans, such as those put forward by Renaissance Southend for an international airport — instead saying he would like to see it developed more modestly as a regional airport along the lines of Newquay.

Coun Abbot argued: “You can’t abandon the airport, I agree the access is awful, but I live under the flightpath and the air traffic could quadruple and it would not have the same effect as the noise of the traffic passing my house. What are you going to put in its place?”

Another former chairman, Reta Cocks said her first concern was for the residents of Leigh.

“Nowhere in the document, or in the session we had with the airport director has there been any mention about its impact on Leigh and how it will be adversely affected,” she said.

Uncertainty

She argued, too, on behalf of people who had interest on land, such as smallholdings, which could now face months of uncertainty as to whether their land would be compulsorily purchased.

“I faced that threat when they talked about the ‘Road to the West’ and I know how stressful that can be,” she said.

She also said she felt the airport had ‘jumped the gun’ in putting the airport up for sale before the consultation process had been carried out.

Coun Carol Mulroney pointed out that if they had concerns about the viion for the airport the message to Southend and Rochford Councils was that they had to go back to the drawing board.

Coun Mrs Pat Holden said that it was easy to see why she and others were cynical about the proposed vision for the future.

Coun Jerry Holden voiced his concerns that the vision took no account of the impact on the wider area. “This is where the vision falls down,” he said.

Residents were given 10 minutes at the start of the meeting to put forward their views and ask questions.

All were against any expansion.

Ted Clarke was concerned about the knock-on effect — pointing out that Southend could eventually see 80-90,000 aircraft movements a year.

Margaret Buckley said she lived under the flight-path and when she stood in her kitchen and aircraft passed over “it almost takes the roof off.”

Town clerk Geoff Fulford was asked what response there had been from the people of Leigh to the proposals — and he reported that there had been four dozen letters and half a dozen phone calls.

Anji Stratton said the infrastructure in Southend was already stretched to the limit and could not accommodate any more traffic.


THE VOICE OF LEIGH

Confusion over the airport plans

WHAT interpretation can be put on Leigh Council’s decision last week to press for no real action to be taken about the expansion of Southend Airport?

The council was not unanimous in its decision and there were less than a dozen residents present at the meeting for what is the most important issue to face Leigh for decades.

Does that mean majority of people in Leigh are not against expansion of the airport?

It would seem so if the handful of residents were representative of the 21,900 people living in Leigh.

This newspaper has already been critical of the way this consultation was carried out, giving very little information to residents as to how they could make their views known.

Thankfully, there is another more important consultation stage to come when Southend and Rochford Council’s Joint Area Action Group will put forward their preferred option for the expansion – or not – of the airport.

Let’s hope more publicity, explanation and opportunity will be given to residents to put forward their views.

If there isn’t there will always be the feeling that this is a vital proposal – certainly as far as Leigh is concerned as it is right underneath the flightpath – that is being pushed through with very little interest in the residents’ views.

If residents then don’t make their views known they cannot complain when adecision is taken which may not be to their liking. It will be too late to do anything about it.

Wrong

There does seem, though, to be something basically wrong about how this whole issue is being developed. Putting the cart before the horse comes to mind.

Regional Airports Limited, current operators of the airport, have said they are about to name a preferred buyer of their operating lease – and yet the consultation process over the expansion of the airport is not expected to be concluded until well into next year.

What operator is likely to invest millions into taking on the operating lease when there is no certainty that it will be able to develop the airport as it wants to once the two local councils have carried out their current consultation exercise?

Surely, if a new operator comes forward they will want to get on with the expansion of the airport as quickly as possible – particularly if, as it has been said, the airport is to play a major part in providing access to the Olympic Games in 2012.

If they have to wait until the end of next year they will have little chance.


LETTERS…

UNDER THREAT FROM THE AIRPORT

From: Gillian Crosby, Westleigh Avenue, Leigh

Having moved away from London nad back to my home town of Leigh some eight years ago, my husband and I are delighted to be living an a wonderful seaside town with all its benefits.

It appears that our quest to get away from congestion, pollution and noise has been unsuccessful as we are under threat from the expansion of Southend Airport.

Being under the flight path we will suffer from all the problems highlighted by Steve Murphy and Philip Greenwood, in letters on July 29.

Will all the customers at the numerous coffee shops, bars etc along the Broadway still be sitting outside, enjoying a peaceful drink? Who will sit along Marine Parade enjoying the view?

Presumably the Air Shop will no longer be able to take place as commercial flights will take priority!

How will the children in the schools under the flight paths concentrate in class – some of the planes already fly worryingly low over West Leigh.

Having looked on the Internet, I found an interesting article by a campaign/lobby group set up by residents across the borough of Newham in direct response to London City Airport’s application to expand flihts to around 120K per annum (see Fight the Flights website).

Residents have complained that few of them were consulted on this proposal. Just three years ago there were few jet planes flying in and out of the airport – now residents suffer from around 90% of flights being jets. Having windows and doors open is a uxury that can only happen for the 24 hours flight free time over the weekend.

How would we have coped over the last week or so in the sultry weather we have enjoyed?

I really do not see how this expansion will benefit the surrounding area at all and shows a complete disregard for the lives of the residents under the flight path. I hope that all residents affected will be given a chance to air their views and that the proposals are not just a fait accompli!

CONSULTATION? WHAT CONSULTATION!

From: Denis Walker, co-ordinator of South East Essex Friends of the Earth

It turns out that Southend Council and Rochford District Council are conducting a consultation on the future of London Southend Airport, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at either of their websites.

The deadline for submissions is 5pm on August 8 – just two weeks away – and the first the public heard of the consultation was this week in a supplement to Rochford District Matters entitled “What’s ahead for the airport?”. This invites readers to visit http://www.rochford.gov.uk and click on a link that doesn’t exist in order to participate in the consultation process.

Southend Borough Council has fared even worse as they have not even distributed a newsletter since the consultation started on June 24.

Anyone concerned about the expansion of Southend Airport should visit http://seefoe.org.uk/aviation or call me on 08444 841239.

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