12th May 2003

No Surprises from BAA as it aims to Protect its Monopoly

BAA’s views on expanding airport capacity in the south east come as no surprise whatsoever say campaigners at Stop Stansted Expansion who have attacked the airport operator for the hypocrisy it has shown in taking so long to reveal its hand in calling for extra runways in the south east.

Stop Stansted Expansion is also critical of the cynical abuse of the consultation process by BAA which has been working on expansion plans with the Department for Transport for four years and sprinkling favours amongst politicians for far longer ­ all to help ensure that their monopoly position in the South East can not only be protected, but actually expanded.

The group is opposed to the creation of the ‘Essex Heathrow’ being proposed by BAA which would result from the addition of even one more runway at Stansted, or the world’s largest airport if two were added, because of the social and environmental impacts that such massive development and associated urbanisation would have. Stop Stansted Expansion strongly rejects the airport operator’s claims that there is a ‘clear economic and environmental case’ for expansion.

Norman Mead, Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion said “The economic case would disappear overnight if the airlines did not enjoy the favouritism which the Government provides by way of tax free fuel and VAT exemptions. And the environmental consequences for the area around Stansted would be catastrophic if the Government was ever to allow BAA to get away with these proposals.”

Stop Stansted Expansion is concerned about the cosy relationship which exists between the Department for Transport and BAA. Even the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Sustainable Development Commission slammed the government’s weakness last autumn in giving into aviation industry pressure to stick with the ‘predict and provide’ strategy, rather than seeking a sustainable solution to meeting demand for air travel over the longer-term.

Aviation is the most polluting form of transport. It is also, in effect, the most heavily subsidized ­ with tax exemptions worth about £35 per air ticket. This is something which BAA repeatedly ignores in its statement of the pro-expansion case.

Meanwhile, the fact that there is virtually no unemployment in the region around Stansted suggests to many observers that there is more than a grain of truth in a deal having been agreed between BAA, the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to secure the jobs needed to ensure the success of John Prescott’s erroneously named ‘Sustainable Communities Plan’. This would provide a means of ‘importing’ the tens of thousands of workers to fill the low-paid low-skilled jobs that an expanded airport would require. It would also give carte blanche to build ‘Prescott’s Prefabs’ resulting in further destruction of the countryside by the major expansion of existing communities and possibly a new town in the area.”

BAA is well known to have lobbied the government unremittingly during the time when the SERAS consultation documents into The Future of Air Transport were being compiled. It has also wooed the government through what many would regard as an over-generous and inappropriate level of donations. BAA currently gives more political gifts than any other company or organisation. These amount to over a million pounds a year including the ‘free’ parking permits which it offers to all Members of Parliament and MEPs. And, while BAA claims these don’t need to be mentioned in the company ‘s annual report, the Department of Trade and Industry has advised that they do not have a written dispensation to omit mention of these donations.

However, not everything is going according to BAA’s plans. According to a report in The Sunday Times (11.5.03), BAA was pushed into announcing its position on expansion in order to take some of the flak from government which has been severely criticised for its expansion proposals ­ largely based on BAA’s own wish list. BAA has until now refused to make its position clear.

Norman Mead added: “BAA grossly understates the damage to the environment, both global and local, which would be caused by expansion. It also fails to take into account the heavy social costs in the region resulting from massive urbanisation, not least the impact on the health of children, the elderly and chronic sick, which would result from creating the world’s largest airport at Stansted if two runways were constructed.”

“It simply wants to line its shareholders’ pockets ­ even if it has to concrete over some of England’s richest heritage, destroy entire villages – homes that have existed for centuries – as well as ancient woodlands and important wildlife habitats. It would be environmental vandalism on an unprecedented scale,” he continued.

Mr Mead concluded: “BAA finally seems to have decided that it’s ‘payback time’ for all the effort it has put into cultivating the Government and politicians. I happen to believe that British democracy is stronger than BAA ­ and that it will not succeed with these plans.”


Note to Editors:

*  Stop Stansted Expansion represents more than 3000 individual members and is backed by over 60 district, town and parish councils plus special interest groups including the National Trust, Friends of the Earth, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and Essex Wildlife Trust.

*  Stop Stansted Expansion is firmly opposed to the addition of any new runways in the south east but takes the view that if the government is determined to provide them, rather than steamroller over the well-being of hundreds of thousands of people in the region it should look towards a truly offshore solution, such as has been proposed in both the Severn and Thames Estuaries, where planes would take off and land over the sea, with minimal effect on people.

*  Proposals for an extra runway have already been the subject of three public inquiries ­ the most recent in the early 1980s. Indeed, the last Planning Inspector to consider the question ­ Graham Eyre ­ declared that an extra runway at Stansted would constitute an ‘unprecedented and wholly unacceptable environmental and visual disaster’. In response the Government, in 1985, gave an unequivocal undertaking that a second runway would not be constructed.

*  The world’s largest airport at Atlanta Airport in the United States handled 79m passengers last year. Stansted would be capable of handling 85m with two extra runways according to BAA, way beyond Heathrow’s present capacity – despite having always been designated an ‘airport in the countryside’ by the government and advertised as such by BAA.

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