Southampton Green Party calls for City Council to object airport expansion

9 January 2020

Southampton and District Green Party believes the City Council should object to the planning application with the reference 19/02021/CONSUL airport expansion.

We are concerned that Southampton City Council’s response to the airport expansion is being dominated by the belief that promises of economic benefits will outweigh the costs to both the climate and to those living under the flight path.

Decisions may also be being made based on the potential of future innovations such as electric planes that could remove the negative impacts of an airport expansion. In actual fact, electric planes would only ever be able to replace the smaller aircraft that currently use the airport. If Southampton Airport intends to ‘green itself’ by attracting such planes, it would not need the proposed longer runway.

We believe that the economic argument has been overplayed.

The number of extra jobs promised by the airport is relatively small, especially considering the large area of land that the airport occupies. Even assuming that all the direct, indirect and induced jobs are within the Solent LEP area – which is questionable since according to Appendix 6.1 (4.6) only 32% of the airport’s non-wage spend is local – the extra 1500 jobs represent only 0.24% of the current 608,100 total employment for Solent LEP (Chapter 6, 6.4.12) and will be a much smaller proportion of projected total employment in 2037. Whether these extra jobs actually materialise is questionable, given that the Airport’s 2006 Masterplan promised an additional 537 jobs by 2015 but in fact there was a net loss of 54.

The cumulative £18.1bn (=average £90m/year) economic benefit of the airport predicted by Appendix 6.1 is based on introduction of the ‘full masterplan timetable’ by 2022 (Appendix 6.1, 5.8). This timescale is clearly not possible as the runway will only be built in 2020/21 and the assumed 4m passengers by 2027 and 5m by 2037 are more than the road network can handle, as evidenced by the transport assessment (chapter 8). How much of this £1.8bn would be achieved anyway under the ‘controlled growth’ scenario with 3.3m passengers is not stated, so no comparison can be made as to how much of this is extra money.

The figures presented for 2037 (Appendix 6.1 para 5.5, 5.7) claim that implementation of the ‘full masterplan’ results in £400m compared with £275m for the ‘controlled growth’ scenario without runway extension. This 45% increase may seem impressive, but it is based on the assumption that economic activity will grow proportionately with number of passengers and that there is no increase in the level of efficiency at the airport. (para 5.4) which seems unlikely.

Moreover, no account has been taken of factors such as Brexit or the expansion of Heathrow Airport, nor indeed of the growing awareness of the impact of aviation on climate change. No consideration has been given in the economic impact assessment to any negatives arising from expansion, such as reduction in house prices for those under the flight path. This is despite significant numbers of homes being affected: over 10,800 households are predicted to be exposed above 54dB LAEQ ,16 hour (chapter 11, table 11.3).

Climate change is probably the biggest risk facing the world today. Chapter 13 (13.6.6) estimates that there will be an average annual increase of 350,000t carbon emissions during the ‘operational phase’ (taken as 120 years!). However, the additional aircraft emissions in the early years (which from the point of view of averting a climate catastrophe are the most important) will be significantly above this, namely 517,000t in 2021 and 448,000t in 2036 (table 13.7). Including the baseline aircraft emissions, the total carbon emissions as a result of development will be 998,000t in 2021 and 992,000 in 2036 – approximately twice what they would be without the development. Efforts to reduce Southampton’s carbon emissions as part of the Green City Charter will be undermined by all these extra emissions resulting from the expansion of a single Charter signatory. The airport’s plan to become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030 is a trivial saving in comparison to this and should not be seen as significant mitigation. As a city that has created a Green City Charter and was among the first to declare a climate emergency, Southampton should have no hesitation in opposing this development.

The noise assessment (chapter 11, table 11.13) finds that there are currently 9000 people who are exposed to levels above 54dB LAEQ, 16 hour and that by 2037 this number will rise to 25,200. In addition, the number of people exposed above 63dB (currently zero) will be 1550 by 2037 and 50 households will even be exposed above 66dB. It is unlikely that these people will see the promised economic benefits. The assessment also ignores the World Health Organisation recommendations to keep aircraft noise 45dB due to health impacts, especially on children. Since numbers of people exposed at this level are not stated it is impossible to assess the full impact on our residents. Southampton should oppose the application on these grounds, just as Twyford Parish Council has.

Increase in traffic congestion is another major downside. The economic benefits (chapter 6) have been based upon the ‘full masterplan’ scenario, but the transport assessment is based on 3m passengers per year. Therefore it has effectively only considered the negative impacts of the ‘controlled growth’ scenario with no runway extension!

The Scoping document (chapter 5, para 5.4.34) says the EIA has assessed the proposed development based on ‘Baseline + Operation of the Proposed Development with 3 million passengers per annum landside and 5 million passengers per annum airside.’ It is not made clear how 2 million passengers per year can pass through Southampton airport without either embarking or disembarking at Southampton – nor how such passengers might contribute to economic benefit of the local area as chapter 6 assumes they will.

The transport assessment claims to finds no significant negative impacts of 3m passengers compared with 2m, despite the fact that many of our junctions are already at capacity. However, the modelling is flawed. The SRTM model was run with 2.66m passengers for the ‘Do something’ scenario and with 2m passengers for the baseline scenario. Chapter 8 (8.2.28) then claims that because the proportion of people currently arriving by public transport is actually higher than the model used assumes, modelling undertaken 2.66m is equivalent to really modelling 3m. This is fair enough, but the same adjustment should have been used also for the baseline scenario since by the same argument modelling 2m passengers is equivalent to really modelling 2.5m (approx). Therefore the modelling has only shown no significant impacts when comparing 3m passengers to 25% more traffic than is currently on our roads. The modelling also assumes infrastructure and public transport improvements that may not occur.

Southampton already has poor air quality and this development will worsen it. Firstly, air pollution from the increased traffic, and secondly pollution emitted from aircraft themselves (chapter 7, Table 7.15 says this will increase from 83.57 tonnes in 2018 to 320.96 tonnes by 2027.

Southampton and District Green Party believes that the associated costs of this development far outweigh any claimed benefits, and Southampton Council should object to the planning application.