Council split on airport expansion

By Liz HearnshawA COUNCIL which is divided over the controversial expansion of Stansted Airport will re-examine tonight the potential impact of the proposal on its residents.

By Liz Hearnshaw

A COUNCIL which is divided over the controversial expansion of Stansted Airport will re-examine tonight the potential impact of the proposal on its residents.

Members of the Labour-led coalition cabinet on St Edmundsbury Borough Council are hoping to convince their Conservative counterparts of the economic benefits which a larger airport could bring to the region.

But opposition groups said the quality of life for people living all over Suffolk could be damaged forever by increased traffic and disturbance if the expansion was given the green light.

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St Edmundsbury Borough Council has arranged tonight's meeting in the hope the split between Labour and Conservative groups could be healed, allowing councillors to offer a united response to the Government plan to expand the Essex airport.

The council's Labour-led coalition cabinet welcomed the proposed expansion during a meeting in November, despite opposition from officers, neighbouring councils and residents – but that decision was immediately called in by opposition members for greater scrutiny.

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Speaking following the cabinet's decision, Conservative group spokesman Andrew Varley said the expansion could irreparably damage the quality of life for residents living in Bury St Edmunds.

"In supporting the new runways at Stansted, the cabinet is sacrificing the interests and quality of life of the people of St Edmundsbury to please the Labour Government," he added.

"Any perceived economic benefits are vastly outweighed by the environmental costs. The south of the borough will be blighted by the aircraft noise inevitable when Stansted becomes as huge and as busy as Heathrow, and by even more house building on greenfield sites.

"This decision of the Labour-led cabinet is folly and demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the issues involved."

But cabinet members who supported the expansion have said the economic benefits it would offer the region outweighed the potential noise and traffic disturbance.

Labour councillor Gerry Kiernan, who represents the Cangle Ward in Haverhill, said Bury St Edmunds would benefit from greater numbers of tourists travelling to the region, while the people of Haverhill could be provided with job opportunities as a result of the airport expansion.

"We realise there are problems to overcome, but I don't feel they are big enough to prompt us to say we don't want Stansted to develop," he added.

"It is good for the economy as business does rely on good transport links. Business in this region can see that Stansted is important and there are strong reasons to support the expansion in St Edmundsbury."

Tonight's meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee in Haverhill will be open to all council members and will include a mix of presentations, questions and workshop discussions.

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