PM's vow to tackle global warming hit by plans to treble flights

Airport expansion will treble flights by 2030, flying in the face of vows to cut global warming
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The Independent Online

Britain's airports are planning to treble the number of flights by 2030, despite the recent Stern report's grave warnings about the environmental effects of expanding air travel in the UK.

From a third runway at Heathrow to a £25m terminal expansion at Glasgow and 50 extra aircraft stands at Luton, the airports' expansion proposals are revealed in a 25-year master plan to be presented this autumn to the Department for Transport.

The Government asked for the proposals three years ago when it published an aviation White Paper encouraging expansion. The revelation of their scale will embarrass Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who led calls for action against global warming.

If Britain's 71 airports carry out their plans, carbon emissions from the industry will increased by an estimated 10 million tonnes.

On top of the well-documented plans at Stansted and Gatwick, Luton airport reveals that it wants to quadruple passenger numbers, from 7.5 million to 30 million a year, while Bristol will treble its own numbers from four million to 12 million a year. Manchester airport, already northern England's biggest, projects another vast increase in numbers, from 22 million a year to 50 million, which it expects to more than double its revenue to £2.1bn.

Some airports have vastly exceeded the White Paper's ambitions - including Glasgow, which expects to grow from eight million to 24 million passengers, and Newcastle from five million to 18 million.

Last night, Tony Blair was facing calls to re-examine the aviation strategy in the wake of the Stern report, which warned that if the industry ploughs capital now into "high-carbon" developments, emissions cuts later on will be much more expensive.

Michael Meacher, Labour's environment minister at the time of the White Paper, led the calls for a rethink and revealed that he had objected to the Department for Transport policy inside government.

He said: "If you build new airports on the scale envisaged in the White Paper, you can kiss goodbye to the Kyoto targets. Aircraft greenhouse gases are the fastest rising of any sector - in the order of 10 per cent, and possibly treble that in 20 years. It is utterly incompatible with the requirement to deal with climate change and the Stern report makes that absolutely clear."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the Government's strategy of "predict and provide" was now "completely implausible". He said: "The whole strategy will have to be rethought in the light of the Stern report. It is inevitable there will be tax introduced and a slowdown in growth of aviation which will leave their projections looking very odd."

When the White Paper gave airports the green light to expand, an overriding concern was how to prevent the fivefold increase in UK air travel - that has been witnessed over the past 30 years - being soaked up by the London airports alone.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, an enthusiastic advocate, saw regeneration benefits in plans to develop airports. But the master plans which the Government encouraged then - scheduled to be the subject of a progress report by the Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander, next month - now sit uncomfortably with the pledge to tackle climate change.

Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute warned last week that the UK could not fulfil its commitments unless flights were curbed. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research also warned that if the growth of Britain's aviation sector continues at current levels, its carbon emissions alone will exceed by 134 per cent Britain's entire output of greenhouse gases in 2050.

Jason Torrance, the campaigns director for the environmental transport organisation Transport 2000, said aviation, with its 4 per cent annual growth in passengers and 5.5 per cent increase in cargo traffic, stood alone as a "rogue sector".

"The industry constantly says increasingly-efficient engines will get us out of the fix," he said. "But the new Airbus superjumbo A380 is only 12 per cent more fuel efficient than the Boeing 747, which was built 40 years ago, while the aviation industry emissions in just 13 years have risen by 89 per cent."

Jon Stewart, of the campaign group Airport Watch, said that while public attention was focused on high-profile environmental protests at Heathrow and Stansted, other airports were quietly increasing numbers. "Manchester has a highly ambitious master plan and it is in places like that where, by stealth, flights will increase," he said.

A senior Whitehall official indicated last night that Mr Alexander's forthcoming airports progress report would not curtail the expansion plans but that flights would be curbed by the EU carbon trading scheme - a policy that Greenpeace estimates would increase the cost of many flights by as little as £15 and have little effect. "The Government's strategy is still in place. That will not change," the official said.

The airport problems coincide with a report by the all-party Commons International Development Committee, that calls on ministers to take action on its "positive rhetoric on climate change" by publishing a plan with "measurable targets" within six months.

The Prime Minister will urge Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to back the UK in seeking to include aviation in carbon trading across the EU when he meets her tomorrow.

Complaints

The expansion plans tabled by every British airport are projected 25 years into the future but the environmental consequences are being felt already.

At a public inquiry in Cheshire this week, Manchester airport pursued plans to lay a 1,500-place car park in green belt land. The airport's barrister insisted that the plan would reduce the volume of traffic created by families who deliver and collect passengers.

But a senior planning officer, John Knight, expressed dismay at the airport's failure to invest in public transport.

Elsewhere, the Council for the Protection of Rural England is concerned about development plans at Bristol which has neither rail nor motorway links.

Edinburgh citizens are fighting plans for a railway tunnel under a proposed airport development. And Coventry airport developers have launched a second appeal over its expansion plans, despite Birmingham airport being just 12 miles away.

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