A new Easyjet hub for cheap Euro-wide flights is searching for its market. London Southend Airport will open to its public in April 2012. Southend on Sea's council, the airport's owners, Stobart Transport and Easyjet - who stand to benefit the most from this airport - must be basking in excited anticipation. The local residents, bamboozled by their council's lies, nod along whilst their sleepy airport (one commercial return flight a week) prepares itself to be inundated. Easyjet have been promised 800,000 passengers per year by the end of 2012. This figure will rise to 2million by 2020.
What lies do you tell a community whose lives you plan to interrupt - minute by minute - with flights overhead?
Southend council, have gone for 'urban regeneration' and - more extraordinary - that the planes that fly in to Southend will be quiet planes...
The second claim should make you laugh out loud except that it is so accepted by those who stand to suffer. It's the same lie that was told to the residents of Greenwich and Newham when the capacity of London City Airport increased from 73,000 flights a year to 120,000. Unfortunately it's just not true. In the words of the Aviation Environment Federation's most recent report into noise pollution from UK airports: "All 19 airport NAPs [Noise Action Plans] produced in England and Northern Ireland allow, or actively plan, increases in aircraft noise [...] the English and Northern Ireland airports have collectively failed to accept the spirit of the Environmental Noise Directive, and have in fact subverted its aims and objectives." They include Southend Airport and London City Airport in this list of deceivers.
The excuse of 'urban regeneration' is a little trickier to unpick. The number of jobs promised to Southend residents has dropped from the earliest projection of 1,130 to just 150. Questionable short-term economic benefits are promoted by a very powerful lobby who write reports, articles and promote this myth in the halls of influence. The oppositional voice, by contrast, is small, under-funded and says things that people in power don't like to hear, like:
If cheap short-haul flights are so good for the economy then...
Why has the UK tourism deficit risen rapidly over the decade to some £12billion?
Why is the aviation industry exempt from VAT - a revenue-raising tax?
Why have there been massive subsidies for aviation manufacturers?
But there remains a more pernicious myth to bust - don't airports give the poorest and most vulnerable in our society an opportunity to enjoy a foreign holiday?
Again - not true.
Social classes A/B/C (i.e. the middle classes) accounted for 65% of leisure flights in 1987 and a mighty 73% in 2004. Airports and cheap flights allow the affluent to make believe an even more luxurious lifestyle. Socio-economic classes D/E - the poorest and most vulnerable in our society - make up 33% of the population but account for just 10% of air travel.
An airport on your doorstep damages health, diminishes house-price and impairs children's education, yet inceasingly local communities are accepting airport expansions in their back yard. If local Council planning committees continue to push through regional expansion plans - as the Localism Bill 2011 encourages - then again and again the health and wealth of the most fragile members of a community will be threatened whilst privileged community leaders reap rewards.
Almost every airport in the UK is expanding. Local residents have complained, written letters, even forked out for expensive legal challenges, yet when it comes to both London City and Southend, every 'democratic' challenge has been defeated. Thomas Jefferson has words of advice for those who will still oppose: 'When injustice becomes law; resistance becomes duty'. What does this mean to the momentum of airport expansion? I encourage you to put your liberty on the line and find out.
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