Policy must not be to meet rising demand

ON April 2, in Bishops Stortford, there is to be a great gathering of protestors against the further expansion of Stansted airport. Both opposition parties will be there, alongside conservation groups such as the CPRE, National Trust, Woodland Trust and Greenpeace.

Andrew Duff MEP

ON April 2, in Bishops Stortford, there is to be a great gathering of protestors against the further expansion of Stansted airport. Both opposition parties will be there, alongside conservation groups such as the CPRE, National Trust, Woodland Trust and Greenpeace.

There will be those who want no airport at all, those who want it to stay as it is now, those who would accept a limited expansion of flight and passenger numbers on the existing runway, and those who would die in the ditch against the building of a second runway. It is that last proposition, of course, which causes most fuss - not least because it is that proposition, for a second runway, which is current government policy.

European Union rules are of great benefit to those who wish to stop Stansted's expansion, or, as a minimum, to manage its growth. Various directives on noise pollution, air quality and the protection of natural habitats will have to be complied with by BAA, the airport's owners.

Assessments of the impact of the airport's growth on the environment will have to be published and subjected to rigorous public scrutiny. The EU's competition Commissioner, Dutch Liberal Neelie Kroes, is taking a close look at BAA's monopolistic ownership of Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick. The European Commission and Parliament are also beginning to take a more strategic view of future airport provision in this crowded corner of West Europe, in which London will have to find its place with Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Brussels and Paris.

EU transport policy is now clearly weighed against the uncontrolled expansion of the aviation sector and in favour of long distance, high speed railways. Aviation is soon to be included in the EU's carbon emissions trading scheme. And we are also considering imposing tax on aircraft fuel.

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As someone who now uses the Eurostar train almost every week - and still has to pinch himself when he arrives at Folkestone 32 minutes after leaving St Pancras - I am a convinced railway-man. I have suggested in many meetings with BAA that they have not taken into account the full impact of the new age of the train on their calculations about future demand for short-haul air travel. Stansted's competitors at London City airport are already reducing their services to Brussels and Paris as a direct result of the competition of Eurostar.

What will make all the difference to Stansted, however, is a change in government policy which has been, under both Labour and the Conservatives, to plan to meet rising demand at whatever the cost. This doctrine had its most recent incantation in the aviation white paper of 2002. The white paper was a badly judged exercise at the time. It now looks way out of date.

The UK is in crying need for a new aviation policy which takes full account of the need to combat climate change, to reduce development pressure in the south east of England, and to open up flying to real competition.

Andrew Duff is the Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England. www.andrewduff.eu

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