In January Birmingham Friends of the Earth joined forces with Birmingham Airport anti-Noise Group (BANG) to launch a new campaign with the aim of persuading local planning authority Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to refuse planning permission for a proposed £120 million extension to the main runway at Birmingham International Airport.
The launch of the 'Flyagra' campaign and its dedicated website, www.flyagra.co.uk, received extensive coverage in the local media, as did a street stall in Solihull town centre in February, where campaigners from BANG and Birmingham FoE dressed as pilots and air stewardesses distributing free 'Flyagra pills' (cunningly disguised as handy blue foam earplugs) to passing shoppers – with a warning not to swallow! Nearly two hundred letters objecting to the runway extension were signed by local people that afternoon.
The pros and cons of the runway extension were rigorously debated at a public meeting in March organised by Birmingham FoE at the John Palmer Hall in Solihull. Chaired by Solihull News editor Ross Crawford, the packed meeting heard from four speakers: Lorely Burt MP (Liberal Democrat, Solihull) and John Morris of Birmingham International Airport Limited, who supported a motion to extend the runway, and Friends of the Earth's Chris Crean and John Stewart of the Heathrow Airport residents campaign group HACAN Clearskies, who put the case against. Following a lively question and answer session, the motion was resoundingly defeated.
The airport runway extension was in the news again in June with the publication of the long-awaited health impact assessment commissioned by Birmingham International Airport (BIA) Limited and carried out by IMPACT, the international health impact assessment consortium based at Liverpool University. Controversy erupted, however, when it emerged that the airport company, unsatisfied with IMPACT's findings, had asked consultants RPS for a second opinion. In its peer review of the health impact assessment, RPS concluded that the health benefits of the extra jobs created in the local community as a result of the runway extension would outweigh the negative health impacts of increasing aircraft noise and pollution.
The runway extension, which could be up and running as early as 2012, will increase the range of long-distance air services available from Birmingham. Environmentalists and local residents fear the development will lead to more noise pollution and climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft and airport-related road traffic. Campaigners also question the validity of the economic cost-benefit analysis of the runway extension carried out for BIA Ltd by consultants York Aviation. York Aviation's cost-benefit analysis included an estimate of the future economic cost of the extra carbon dioxide emissions from planes using the extended runway, when in fact the total global-warming impact of aviation is two to four times greater than the impact of aircraft carbon dioxide emissions alone. When we consider that, according to York's 'sensitivity test', the cost of aircraft carbon dioxide emissions would have to rise by only 36 per cent to reduce the net present value of the proposed runway extension to £0, it is likely that the true climate-change cost of the runway extension outweighs all the potential benefits of the development identified by York put together.
Following a meeting with senior planners at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council in June, we understand that the Council's planning committee will decide whether or not to grant planning permission some time in September 2008. You can comment on the planning application at any time up until the date of the decision, so please fill out and send the action postcard enclosed with this newsletter. Thank you!