Residents deliver snub to airport growth

ESSEX residents have delivered a snub to those pushing for expansion at Stansted Airport, insisting that protection of the environment is far more important than any financial benefits.

By Sharon Asplin

ESSEX residents have delivered a snub to those pushing for expansion at Stansted Airport, insisting that protection of the environment is far more important than any financial benefits.

The verdict of county council's citizens' panel, commissioned to ensure that council policy remains in tune with the feelings and concerns of the local community, was welcomed last night by campaigners opposed to growth at the airport.

But airport operators BAA have also said they welcomed the findings of the survey, which found the drive to increase capacity at the airport was both "needed and wanted".

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Although half the 1,300 residents questioned agreed that expansion of the airport would benefit the economy of the county, 69% said the "protection of the countryside, environment and Essex communities are more important than increasing the number of flights from Stansted".

A bigger Stansted Airport is also expected to generate more car and rail journeys and most residents questioned were concerned that the current transport infrastructure would be insufficient to cope with increased usage.

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Nearly four-fifths (79%) agreed with the statement that: "An expanded Stansted would require more road and rail links to allow passengers to travel to and from the airport."

Lord Hanningfield, the Conservative leader of Essex County Council, welcomed the results of the research carried out by MORI.

He said: "This shows just how much people in Essex value quality of life available here. We have been determined to protect our environment from excessive development and I am delighted that the county council's actions have been so closely in tune with the wishes of Essex people.

"Over coming years, the county council will be fighting to ensure a proper balance is struck between economic development and the protection of one of the most attractive environments in England."

The survey was one of a series, funded jointly by Essex County Council and Essex Police, with each individual survey costing about £30,000.

In this latest one, 1,300 people of all ages and backgrounds and from all parts of the county were quizzed. As well as questions about Stansted, they were asked about more general themes such as waste disposal and policing issues.

The findings were welcomed by protest group Stop Stansted Expansion, although it queried even the economic viability of expansion.

Campaign director Carol Barbone said: "The economic case for expanding Stansted is highly dubious, resting not only on the need for cross-subsidy from Heathrow and Gatwick but also a raft of tax exemptions for the aviation industry.

"Also in doubt is the likelihood of proper funding to put in place the rail links which would be needed to cope with a fourfold increase in airport passengers if expansion went ahead. It is little wonder that the people of Essex regard BAA's plans with such suspicion."

Last night a spokesman for BAA at Stansted Airport said: "Our initial reaction to the survey results is good news.

"The people of Essex, whose opinions matter, agree that expansion is needed and wanted.

"We clearly recognise our responsibility to the environment and economy and very shortly will be talking to the community on this very subject."

A Government aviation White Paper published last in December 2003 supported the idea of a second runway at Stansted Airport.

Regional businessmen and industry have broadly welcomed the move and earlier this year Prime Minister Tony Blair stressed the second runway was vital to ensure economic growth.

But many residents are opposed to the plan, claiming it would have a devastating impact on the environment. They claim scores of homes would be lost and swathes of countryside destroyed.

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