11th August 2003

Heritage is Priceless – Don’t treat it as Worthless!

Heritage may be priceless but its real and long term value must be taken into account in assessing the true cost of damage caused by both aviation and airport expansion, Department for Transport (DfT) officials were warned by campaigners this week.

And, while quantifying the impact that expansion would have on Stansted’s environment can be very difficult, this should not be used as an excuse to effectively render it worthless by leaving heritage out of the sums. Doing so would only result in decisions being taken based on false logic and leave the nation significantly worse off.

The alert was issued at a special meeting organised by Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) with the head of the DfT’s Aviation Environmental Division, Graham Pendlebury, and its chief economist, Michael Mann.

The civil servants were told by SSE executive committee members Brian Ross and Peter Sanders that they must face up to their responsibilities in ensuring that Government Ministers had all the relevant – and accurate – facts on which to base expansion decisions.

SSE has calculated that the DfT has to date seriously underestimated the aviation industry’s impact on the environment. The figure of c£1.5bn (year 2000) should, in fact, be nearer to £6bn, not only because errors in the financial quantification have put too low a value on the impacts of aircraft in flight, but also because the high price to be paid for destruction of the local countryside, heritage and ecology that would result from a second runway at Stansted.

The SSE team also made clear at the meeting that expansion at Stansted would result in a huge increase in the local population and that the impacts of noise and air pollution on the community at large would be correspondingly greater.

Said Brian Ross: “Our heritage, environment and ecology belong to everyone and should not be given away to the aviation industry for its own short term gain. These are assets which are of great value and importance both to people today and to many future generations and we must remember that once they disappear, they would be gone forever.”

“Of course there are difficulties in determining a value for the priceless assets of our heritage,” he continued. “Putting a real value on the ancient lanes and medieval woodland, listed buildings, historic communities and wildlife that would be destroyed or severely compromised by expansion and related construction – extending well beyond the airport perimeter – is never going to be easy. However, this must not be used as an excuse for the aviation industry to cook the books and claim that the cost of enlarging Stansted airport would be relatively low and therefore justifiable.”

Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, Brian Ross said: “The Department for Transport has consistently disregarded heritage and environmental issues in favour of pursuing the aviation industry’s agenda. This meeting provided an opportunity for us to state the case from a different viewpoint and we were very pleased with the productive exchange that took place. It will go some way to redressing the current imbalance.”

The meeting was arranged following SSE’s formal response to the joint consultation by the Treasury/DfT into how best to make the aviation industry redress the damage it causes – Aviation and the Environment: Using Economic Instruments. This inquiry paralleled the public consultation into proposals to make Stansted at least as big as Heathrow today through the addition of even more extra runway and possibly the world’s largest airport if two or more were to be added.

SSE representatives had previously met Economics Minister John Healey MP with Sir Alan Haselhurst MP to look at these issues and also the very serious effect which the rapid growth in air travel is having upon the UK’s Balance of Payments.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits