The Rt Hon John Denham MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
11th February 2010
Dear Mr Denham,
I understand from the local press in Southend that you have recently been urged by various parties to rush your decision on whether to call in the planning application to extend the runway at London Southend Airport, reference SOS/09/01960/FULM. I know that my MP, James Duddridge, has put pressure on you in the House of Commons and this week’s Southend Standard says that “Renaissance Southend has pressed Communities Secretary John Denham to rubber-stamp the airport runway extension as soon as possible…”
Renaissance Southend (the Urban Regeneration Company for the Borough of Southend) has, ever since its inception in 2005, attached undue weight to the expansion of Southend Airport as the key to economic regeneration in the town. In response to their Regeneration Framework consultation in 2007, my Friends of the Earth local group produced an alternative regeneration plan for the town, which is available at http://seefoe.org.uk/documents/regeneration0707
The claims made by the Airport, Southend Council and Renaissance Southend about how many jobs the extension of the runway can create and its wider impact on the local economy have consistently been over-optimistic and have lacked evidence to support them. In the article in the Standard quoted from above, the chairman of Renaissance Southend, Theo Steel, talks about “the potential to create nearly 7,000 new jobs” as a result of approval of the planning application. This figure comes from the Joint Area Action Plan for the airport and its environs, and includes jobs on a proposed industrial estate which has nothing (other than its proximity) to do with the airport. In fact, many of the jobs there would not actually be created as they would merely be jobs relocated from an existing industrial estate in nearby Hockley, which Rochford District Council has proposed to knock down for housing. The airport’s planning application suggests that they hope to employ a total of around 2,000 people by 2020 – an increase of about 500. We regard the damage the runway extension and associated airport expansion would do to the town, its residents and the environment to be too high a price to pay for so few jobs.
I referred above to the Joint Area Action Plan or JAAP. As you may be aware, a process to formulate this document was started by Southend and Rochford Councils in the summer of 2008 and we have had two phases of consultation to date, both of which have overwhelmingly opposed the runway extension. The whole process was suspended on receipt of the planning application from the Airport in October 2009, just before statutory consultation on the JAAP was due to start, and this would have led to an Examination in Public. Once the runway planning application has been determined, the JAAP process will continue. However, if there is no Public Inquiry into the planning application, there will be no public scrutiny of the runway extension at all as the decision will already have been made. One could speculate that knowing how unpopular their scheme was, Stobart’s timing in submitting the planning application was motivated by a desire to prevent such scrutiny.
It should be noted that the Officer’s Report to the Development Control Committee recommending approval of the application contains a number of errors and factual inaccuracies. It is clear from the report that the author is not an aviation expert and does not understand some of the aviation-related jargon. In particular, their description of the Quota Count system is obviously incorrect. It is entirely understandable that Southend Borough Council’s planning officers are not familiar with such jargon, but I believe this strengthens the case for a Public Inquiry, which will provide an opportunity for proper scrutiny of the proposals by expert witnesses. It should also be noted that Southend Borough Council owns the airport and leases it to the operator under terms that link the amount of rent to the airport’s revenue. The Council could therefore be said to have had a conflict of interests when deciding the application.
On behalf of South East Essex Friends of the Earth, I would like to encourage you to call the planning application in, allowing full scrutiny of the proposals at a Public Inquiry.
South East Essex Friends of the Earth