Eastleigh Local Area Committee REJECTS recommendation to allow the runway extension

After 16 hours of representations and debate, both of which became emotional at times, the Eastleigh Local Area Committee (ELAC) voted 5 to 3 to reject the planning officers’ recommendation to approve the runway extension at Southampton Airport. This encouraging, and frankly rather unexpected, result is a win for the wonderful efforts of many members of the public who took the time to understand the proposal and its consequences, and wrote in response to the application as well as presenting at the meeting itself.

“We would be really pleased if 46,000 local people were spared the extra noise. We need to drastically cut climate impacts and invest in green jobs and technology”

Lyn Brayshaw, AXO

Overwhelmingly, the reasons given for rejection were the contribution to climate change of increased flights and the severe noise intrusion to thousands of local residents, many of whom would not currently consider themselves under the flight path. Another reason given was that any increase in traffic would be extremely problematic because Eastleigh already suffers bad congestion.

“In government there’s no voice for future generations”

Councillor Doguie

Many of the objecting representations from the public also highlighted the blight of noise on health, education and family life, including the existing impact of specific aircraft, such as the A320, which are due to increase considerably in frequency with the airport’s plans. The incongruity of airport expansion with Eastleigh Council’s declaration of a climate emergency, and concerns about the exacerbation of lung conditions from increased air pollution, were also made clear.

Word clouds demonstrating the differences between objecting (left) and supporting (right) statements. Powered by WordArt.com

Many supporting arguments were based on the concern that the airport will close if the extension is not permitted. This idea has been stated in publicity by Southampton International Airport Ltd, despite there being no evidence for this in the application or business plan. The validity of this argument was discussed in some detail during the meeting and it was determined that the airport’s viability is not in question. However, despite repeated statements that this is not material to the application, there continued to be baseless claims that rejecting the application will destroy the airport.

“We need to think of business as an ebb and flow, not a continuum”

Coucillor Tyson-Payne

Another bogus claim that the airport had made in earlier publicity, that seems to have stuck, is that opening up new destinations from Southampton would reduce pollution, emissions and traffic because people would not drive to other airports, such as Gatwick. This claim can only be true if all new flights from Southampton would be matched by a reduction in flights from other airports. However, the evidence in the application is that opening up more destinations from Southampton would lead to people flying who would not previously have flown, resulting in a net gain in flights. Therefore, the runway expansion would lead to an increase by hundreds of thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases. Further, the carbon emissions from driving are trivial compared with those from flying.

 “Economic growth is only valuable if it supports well being and the health of the planet”

Councillor Campbell

The promise of jobs, both direct and indirect, was a third main reason for supporting the expansion. The creation of jobs is obviously important for the region and to be encouraged. However, the pandemic has seen how fragile our current economy, in particular international travel, is to shocks. All forecasts of the impacts of climate change are that there will be an increasing frequency, severity and multiplicity of extreme events and societal shocks. Therefore, any jobs in aviation are likely to be fragile and short-lived. Much better would be investment in sustainable businesses that are adapted to climate change. Chris Packham made this point very clearly in the video that we made for AXO before the ELAC meeting: https://www.instagram.com/p/CM0NAJSpElA/

“Yes, this is a global situation and, no, the ELAC can not solve the problems of the world – I wish we could –  but we can play our part and take that leadership role.  For me, the harder problem to solve is climate change.  We have to honor the commitment we have made.  We don’t have time to wait.  Those technologies will come but not quick enough.  What we fundamentally need to be doing is reducing our carbon emissions as individuals, communities, countries and so on.  We have to take the decisions that are right for 5 generations ahead”

Concillor Campbell

Because the committee went against the recommendation to approve, this application will now go to full Council for debate on 8th April.  We’re asking everyone who cares about the health of their family and neighbours, and the global climate, to continue to write to Eastleigh Councillors and their MPs to tell them how they feel about this proposal. The ELAC meeting demonstrated how these letters and emails really make a difference.

We are so grateful to the ELAC councillors for their diligence in considering the detail of all sides of this application and we have a great deal of respect for the difficult position that they each navigated in coming to their decision. It is heartening to hear how many councillors and residents put climate change, and the health of local people, at the top of their list of priorities. The representations from individuals were listened to and made a big impact and we would like to thank everyone for their personal efforts in letting Eastleigh Council know how they feel.

Please continue to contact councillors and MPs, this will be vital with the next stages of our campaign.

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