9th December 2005

Second runway plans spell environmental disaster

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has called on BAA to withdraw its plans for a second runway on the grounds that it would be an environmental catastrophe if it ever went ahead, whatever the location.

Furthermore, it has accused the airport operator of acting wholly irresponsibly and insensitively for prolonging community uncertainty for at least another three years whilst BAA decides whether the project would be in the interests of its shareholders.

The comments came as BAA launched its latest consultation on proposals to expand Stansted’s ‘airport in the countryside’.

The mass opposition across the region to BAA’s second runway plans and the determination of the airline industry as a whole to oppose the airport developer’s ideas for funding expansion would combine to create very major obstacles to the realisation of the proposals, said the campaign group. BAA should recognise this now and withdraw its unsustainable plans before creating still further anguish and blight in the community.

Furthermore, the blinkered view being taken by BAA regarding the environmental impacts which a second runway would create was a matter of very grave concern and an insult to the communities which it was intending to consult. It could expect only anger and hostility when it took its plans out to the people who would be exposed to their consequences.

“BAA’s slightly scaled back perimeter would do nothing to alleviate the widespread impact that the project as a whole would have across Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk, or to reassure those in the villages most directly affected by BAA’s landgrab,” said SSE Chairman Peter Sanders. “By no stretch of the imagination could the noise from three times as many planes at Stansted as today be ignored, nor could the impacts which would result from an extra million passengers per week travelling to and from the airport, largely by road but also on a creaking rail system,” he continued. “The rural character of the region would inevitably suffer a major transformation as a result of the proposals in the unlikely event of their ever being allowed.”

He added that it was also highly irresponsible of BAA to ignore the global warming impacts of its proposals by trying to shift responsibility onto others. Operations at Stansted Airport currently pump the equivalent of seven million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually; full use on the existing runway would increase this to 12 million tons and with a second runway this would rise to 23 million tons. This is the same as is produced by every household (2.3m) in the East of England, including their cars. This cannot be reconciled with the general view that action needs to be taken to address global warming, defined as the biggest threat faced by society, matching even global terrorism according to the Prime Minister and his Chief Scientific Adviser.

BAA should also beware its own complacency since before it even starts thinking about a second runway, it will need to secure approval for increasing the use of the existing runway. Stansted is presently handling 22 million passengers per annum (mppa) and only has permission to go to 25 mppa. BAA’s planning application for further use of the existing runway will not even be submitted until April 2006 and is already a year behind schedule. A virtual doubling in the capacity of the existing runway would expose the community to double the pain it currently experiences.

The planning application for a second runway will not be made before 2007 at the earliest and will inevitably go to public inquiry the following year. The airport developer has already admitted that it could not deliver to the Government’s target date of 2011/12 for a second runway at Stansted and that even with cross subsidy, completion by 2013 would be challenging. If funding had to be secured on the standalone basis currently required by the Civil Aviation Authority, this date would be delayed by several more years according to BAA.

Peter Sanders added: “BAA has said that it will not build a second runway at Stansted unless it would benefit its shareholders. It has also said that it cannot take a decision on whether there is a business case for going forward until the end of 2008, by which time it hopes to have secured planning permission and to have persuaded the CAA to reverse its ruling prohibiting cross-subsidy for Stansted from Heathrow and Gatwick. BAA is very optimistic if it believes that it can ever overcome these two hurdles. A three-year timescale goes beyond optimism and into the land of fantasy.”


  • BAA was forced to reconsider its plans for expanding Stansted after the High Court ruled earlier this year that the Government had acted unlawfully in specifying a wide spaced runway in its Air Transport White Paper (December 2003).
  • The likelihood of planning permission being granted for a second runway is extremely slim given that three Government Inspectors in the last 30 years have ruled against extra runways at Stansted, most recently in the 1980s when it was judged that any second runway at Stansted, in any position or location, would be an environmental catastrophe.
  • There is still no evidence that an expanded Stansted would benefit the economy. Official Government statistics show that air travel was responsible for a £15 billion balance of payments deficit for Britain last year. In 2004, British residents made more than 50 million overseas trips by air compared to only 20 million overseas residents flying in to visit Britain. The Government needs to explain how it benefits our economy to subsidise an Irish airline buying American aeroplanes to transport millions of British people to spend their money abroad.
  • Proposals for a second runway at Stansted Airport are opposed by over 100 local parish and town councils, district councils, the East of England Regional Assembly and every MP and MEP in the region, irrespective of political party.
  • There are major questions over the robustness of Stansted’s financial and market position given that it is highly dependent on two customers, Ryanair and Easyjet, which together account for 90% of its business. They were attracted to Stansted because it was the cheapest show in town but Ryanair in particular may well move elsewhere if a better deal is available.
  • Stansted currently earns only a 4% return on investment and most of that comes from car parking – which is already one of the biggest planning issues facing BAA at Stansted.
  • Cheap flights depend on cheap oil and upon the continuation of the airline industry’s blanket exemption from fuel duty and VAT – and the absence of any environmental tax. There are doubts over how much longer this tax-free bonanza can last when in the UK aviation is the fastest growing cause of global warming.

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