We have been campaigning for years to stop the £65 million project to extend the runway at Birmingham International Airport. It now looks as though the funding for moving the A45 is going to be provided through state aid from the Regional Growth Fund and the Integrated Transport Authority, so major construction could begin in 2012 and they plan for it to be completed by 2014. This raises a number of environmental concerns, largely around the extra emissions caused by the aircraft movements and people travelling to and from the airport, but also because the Chamber of Commerce have been talking up the M42 corridor as a growth area, with plans for labelling parts of it as an “Enterprise Zone” or “Belt”.

Recently, Birmingham City Centre was announced as the LEP‘s prefered option for an Enterprise Zone, which came as a pleasant surprise to those proposing that it should be somewhere accessible by public transport and utilising brownfield sites, rather than putting it in the greenbelt. Now though, with the government’s increasingly lax attitude to planning and sustainable development – being that any development that might make money seems to be good, we are seeing more and more plans for other bits of greenbelt and particularly out-of-town land around airports being targeted. 

Friends of the Earth fear that the A45 and airport scheme is the start of “open season” on greenfield land adjacent to the motorway network. There are many organisations who are concerned about the overdevelopment of this rural landscape and green lung called the Meriden Gap, a green belt area separating Solihull and Coventry in the West Midlands conurbation. In order for the Airport expansion to take place, construction on the green belt area will need to take place. This may encourage further development, such as new business parks and housing in the area, adding to the unsustainable growth of the region.

If the M42 corridor becomes an Enterprise Belt this could have further detrimental impacts on the environment; causing people to become more car dependant, generating greater congestion on the motorway to get to the places and generally generating high carbon developments. This problem is further exacerbated by recent rises in the cost of fuel. It would be much more sustainable to have city centre developments, which are more accessible by public transport, rather than ones which require travelling longer distances by unsustainable modes of transport, such as cars.

Research on Enterprise Zones shows they also have a number of weaknesses and they are ineffective in stimulating sustainable economic growth. It has been said Enterprise Zones do very little to promote lasting economic prosperity, creating an initial boom and then leading back to a long-term depressed economy. Birmingham City Centre already has an Enterprise Zone and creating another one along the M42 corridor would possibly create competition between the two, and may weaken the one in the City Centre. Previous Enterprise Zones have displaced jobs from other areas – up to 80% of jobs are taken from other places. This is therefore ineffective in creating new jobs and reducing unemployment levels.

In summary, pumping money into expanding the airport, realigning the A45 and creating an Enterprise Belt along the M42 corridor are all highly unsustainable. Parts of the Meriden Gap will be compromised for development, people will become further car dependent, greater amounts of congestion will be created and there will be increases in air and noise pollution. Too much attention has been focused on the economic benefits and the issues of climate change and pollution have been ignored. Instead significant investment needs to be targeted towards walking, cycling and public transport networks in the city centre, making a better and more sustainable use of money.

Joe Peacock of Birmingham Friends of the Earth stated: “The self-proclaimed greenest government ever is encouraging the wrong type of development in the wrong locations. Environmental regulations are under threat at the same time as the government is redefining the planning system and scrapping the regional spatial strategies. The regeneration of our towns and cities are under threat from traffic-generating developments around the airport.”