Extra runway 'will create 21,000 jobs': Public inquiries on regional transport plans open with clashes between environmentalists and developers. Christian Wolmar reports

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The Independent Online
A NEW, second runway at Manchester airport is seen by its promoters as the keystone for the economic development of the North- west, which, they claim, 'would be worth an extra 21,000 jobs' over the next decade.

But opponents suggest that such arguments are a 'gross exaggeration' and that the environmental damage far outweighs the benefits for an airport that is still largely used for holiday charter passengers who comprise 80 per cent of its users.

The planning inquiry, which started yesterday at Wythenshawe, near the airport, is expected to last until early next year because of the quantity of evidence submitted by local opponents to the scheme.

Manchester is the largest airport in Britain outside the two major London ones, Heathrow and Gatwick, with 13 million passengers a year. David Keene QC, in the opening statement for the promoters, said that local people were mostly in favour of the pounds 170m project.

'A recent Mori poll revealed that in North Cheshire, the second runway is approved of by twice as many people as oppose it and that in Greater Manchester, five times as many approve of it as disapprove,' he said.

The airport development is supported by Manchester City Council, which owns the airport in common with nine other local authorities, all of which support expansion, except Stockport.

Manchester's leader, Graham Stringer, said: 'New businesses have already located and opened in this region as a direct consequence of the airport and we must continue to expand to satisfy the region's potential now and in the next century.'

The opponents include the Macclesfield local authority, which says that it contravenes planning rules, Liverpool Airport which argues that there is plenty of unused capacity at its airport used by fewer than 500,000 passengers last year and a host of environmental groups.

The environmentalists point out that the expansion involves driving the new runway into the Bollin Valley over a 25m-high (82ft) embankment, creating a 300m (328 yards) tunnel for the river and walkers. Local woodland would be destroyed and a group of four 17th-century listed buildings in Mobberley would have to be demolished.

Jeff Gazzard, of Manchester Airport Environment Network, said: 'The inquiry is a titanic clash of environmental concern versus commercial expediency. We are not prepared to sacrifice our quality of life simply to provide a concrete comfort blanket for the North-west's business community.' He also disputes the use of opinion polls as evidence.

This week, the airport received a blow to its expansion hopes from British Airways, which announced that it would be scrapping its five- times-a-week flight to Los Angeles because on average only three people a flight were using the business class which made it not viable even though 60 per cent of all seats were sold.

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