Controversial plans to expand a small local airport in Kent into a regional hub were approved by the Government tonight, to the anger of conservationists and some locals.
Lydd Airport on Romney Marsh will now be able to press ahead with the construction of a 294-metre runway expansion for passenger jets and a new terminal building.
Its owners hope the airport will eventually be able to accommodate an extra 500,000 passengers a year. The decision was made after the Planning Inspectorate recommended approval. The plans were first submitted seven years ago and were the subject of a public inquiry which ended in 2011.
The expansion proposal is controversial because the airport lies close to the Dungeness peninsula, an area of varied biodiversity. Hani Mutlaq, the executive manager of Lydd Airport, said the expansion would bring needed investment to the area and help rejuvenate an “economic blackspot”.
He also dismissed environmental, safety and noise concerns, telling ITV News: “All these issues have been discussed in detail within the planning application, with expert professional advisers, and I’m sure when the Government made the decision it was based on very, very watertight arguments. “
However, the decision caused dismay among campaigners who have been fighting the proposals for years. Keith Taylor, the Green Party’s MEP for the South-east England, said: “It’s hugely disappointing that the Government has given the green light for this damaging expansion. The large number of people that requested a public inquiry into the expansion of Lydd Airport shows that there are huge concerns about the impact these proposals would have in terms of the increase in pollution for local residents and the threat to important wildlife.”
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said: “This is a terrible decision which threatens one of the few remaining areas of rural tranquillity in a heavily pressured South-east, and in a county once proudly described as the Garden of England.
“If there are any economic benefits, which is unlikely, they will be heavily outweighed by the environmental damage that it will cause on so many levels.”
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds conservation director Martin Harper said: “Dungeness is a special place for nature which is recognised globally for the importance of its wildlife, this decision means nowhere is safe and signals that nature is in trouble in the face of unfettered growth – these are worrying times for all who care for Britain’s wildlife.”
Opponents said they would consider all legal options to have the decision overturned.
But Councillor Robert Bliss, leader of Shepway Council, said the Government’s ruling vindicated the approval granted by the council in March 2010.
“The area is losing its power stations at Dungeness and there is no other significant employer waiting in the wings,” he said. “An expanded airport will have the capacity to provide a range of jobs, and this must be good for our Marsh community.”