County Councillor Jonathan Essex responds to delayed decision on airport expansion

The government chose last night to announce that we should still expand runway capacity in the South East of England (without specifying where). To do this while ‘talking the talk’ with other leaders, gathered to finalise a global agreement on climate change in Paris, is simply irresponsible.

It is the very same government that in Paris is calling for action is undermining the foundations for a sustainable energy economy at home, and instead pushing forward with investments in new roads, forcing through fracking and now planning another runway – all which increase carbon emissions.

Instead of prolonging the intense lobbying of Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which obviously ignores resident’s real concerns of increased congestion, noise, air pollution around Gatwick or Heathrow the government must match its attendance at the climate talks in Paris with leadership on climate change, to build a sustainable economy at home.

The timing of this announcement should have provided the opportunity of leadership. The government must now start to take responsibility for aviation’s climate impact and commit to manage down demand for aviation such as through a reformed airport tax to curb the growth of air freight and frequent flyers (see Note 1). This will remove the need for additional runway capacity at Heathrow, or Gatwick.

Instead this decision signals the government still plans to ignore what makes climate sense in pushing forward with expanding aviation in the South East. An extra runway means a huge increase in carbon emissions, air pollution and noise whatever is decided. The Government should bite the bullet and agree that no new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick should be built, and that we should move towards a more sustainable transport future for the sake of the climate and the quality of our lives.

For a different future we need to manage demand – so our carbon budget impacts upon what investment decisions our government makes. We must accept the massive impacts of flying and accept that investing in expanding runways will expand flights, which increase carbon emissions and air pollution. There is no way to square this circle.

Expanding either airport will also increase pressure for even more housing and industrial sites on Surrey's countryside while the regional inequality in the UK continues to widen (see Note 2 and 3).

Meanwhile, in Paris, Over 100 countries including the US, EU and many developing countries are arguing for a stronger climate cap, limiting the world to no more than 1.5C of global warming. This means we need to make different decisions, better. This requires the UK to stop subsidising fossil fuel extraction and fossil fuel dependant infrastructure investment.

Instead we must invest in a way that makes live better for everyone - that blights no-one here, nor leaves anyone behind in Bangladesh, Africa or in small island states. For this we must go beyond creating green jobs that produce renewable energy to help make all the UK to live sustainably, including making transport better.

And this must include freeing from the fear of expansion not just those living around Gatwick, but other airports too. For the government to stop dithering on which corporation to cut a deal with that jeopardises our future. And instead be brave enough to accept that Gatwick is Big Enough Already (see Note 4). While agreeing to Stop Heathrow Expansion too.

1. For more details see website:
2. The government's planning framework called Duty to Cooperate, higher housing targets and speculative schemes such as Surrey County Council's potential £40 million windfall from building by Gatwick.
3. See$FILE/Rebalancing-EY-UK-region-and-city-economic-forecast.pdf

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