Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Air freight: the Impacts

Last week I took the train to Southend where Airport Watch launched the report I wrote, Air Freight: the Impacts. UK freight volumes, along with passenger numbers, have declined since the recession, but capacity expansion is still planned and underway all over the UK. This will either undermine greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction targets if the capacity becomes operational, or leave us with a load of white elephants with empty warehouse space, or add yet more generic business premises to the UK’s logistics landscape of windowless grey sheds proliferating around major road junctions.

The negative environmental impacts of air freight are well known, in particular the GHG emissions are many multitudes of transporting freight by other modes, by road, rail and ship. The report also questions the supposed economic benefits, highlighting a £20 billion air freight trade deficit with more goods flown into the UK than are exported. Air freight expansion also has a poor track record of job creation, and any economic benefits need to be weighed against considerable funding and policy support from many government agencies. The longer term trend has been the UK’s air freight volumes flatlining for the past decade, concurrent with economic growth until last autumn, so the evidence for the argument that air freight expansion is vital for economic growth appears to be weaker than the case for expansion for more passenger flights.

Airport Watch launched the report at London Southend Airport. SAEN is running an amazingly comprehensive campaign against the expansion of the airport and a planning objection has been submitted. This highlights the noise nightmare with the runway expansion meaning the flightpath would go right over several schools and a church would become a noisy place for worship, an erroneous assessment of the noise impacts of more, larger, noisier planes flying lower over the area, exaggerated job creation claims, a pro-airport bias by councils and unrealistic passenger number projections. Freight magnate Stobart, operators of the airport, have been inconsistent in their statements on freight growth plans at the airport. We had a look at the exhibition about the expansion plans in the foyer, which managed the typical spin of how it will ‘enhance’ features like a bit of woodland that will not be covered in asphalt with the extended runway.

SAEN anticipates that if the expansion goes ahead and passenger numbers increase, most of them will head into London, for example for the 2012 Olympics, and we saw the main site taking shape from the train on the way to Southend. Southend Airport also goes by the Name of London Southend Airport. It one of several airports which is are not actually in London, it is out on England’s south east coast, like Manston in Kent which is referred to as London Manston Airport, and Oxford Airport where there was objection to renaming it London Oxford Airport as London is 60 miles away. The naming of these regional airports shows how the expansion is about enabling development that is of questionable benefits to local residents and will funnel passengers into the tourist attractions and business centres in the big cities.


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