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Stop Stansted Expansion warns Uttlesford District Council of 'hollow words' on climate if airport grows

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Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has challenged Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to make good on its climate emergency stance and stop growth at the airport.

The authority's new Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration has sent Manchester Airports Group's planning application, to raise Stansted's annual passenger cap from 35m to 43m, back to its planning committee for a review, despite granting approval last November, when the Conservatives were in charge.

At its meeting last Tuesday (July 30), UDC declared a 'climate and ecological emergency' and committed to achieving net-zero carbon status by 2030.

Stop Stansted Expansion chairman Peter Sanders. (14778215)
Stop Stansted Expansion chairman Peter Sanders. (14778215)

SSE chairman Peter Sanders said: "It is now time to convert words into actions. The council's declaration of a climate emergency would be a hollow gesture if it were now to approve expansion of the airport to 43 million passengers per annum, almost equivalent to today's Gatwick."

Aviation is the fastest-growing contributor to global climate change and Stansted Airport is the largest single source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the East of England. This year it will produce an estimated 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 – which increases to the equivalent of 3.8 million tonnes when radiative forcing (RF) – the difference between sunlight absorbed by the Earth and energy radiated back to space – is taken into account.

If the current planning application for 43mppa were to be approved, Stansted would be responsible for the equivalent of 2.7 million tonnes of CO2, rising to the equivalent of 4.9m tonnes when RF is included – the same amount as produced annually by around two million typical family cars.

SSE cites Hertfordshire County Council as a sign that its stance is gaining ground, quoting Cllr Derrick Ashley, HCC's cabinet member with responsibility for growth, infrastructure, planning and the economy, on expansion at Luton Airport.

He said: "The county council has always taken the view that economic benefits of airports need to be balanced with the impact on the environment. I think the balance is now shifting more towards the environmental issues and away from strictly economic issues that I think were the priorities in the past.

"So I would agree that we do need to look now at how we view airport expansion – the impact on the ground, the impact relative to climate change and whether the environmental impact now takes a much higher priority than perceived economic benefits."

Mr Sanders said: "The need to tackle climate change is an urgent challenge which transcends politics and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything in our power to prevent a climate emergency becoming a climate disaster. Our local council now needs to rise to this historic challenge.

"We very much hope that on an issue as important as this for future generations, councillors will agree with SSE that reducing the adverse environmental impacts of aircraft carbon emissions is now a high priority matter and the right thing to do.

"History will remember those who fight for what they believe to be right, long after it has forgotten those who gave way on such a vital issue."

ACI, which represents the European airport industry, recently announced that 194 European airports, including Stansted, have pledged to be net carbon neutral by 2050.

SSE is critical of the fact this requires only airport buildings and airfield vehicles to be carbon neutral. It ignores aircraft emissions, which account for over 90% of emissions arising from airport operations.

In an exclusive interview with the Indie this week, airport chief executive Ken O'Toole said the environment and sustainability was a top priority. He said: "Climate is top-down and the bottom up."

Stansted's sustainability has already been recognised - it is the first UK airport to hold both ISO14001 and OHSAS18001 standards and has been awarded Carbon Trust Standard. More passengers use public transport to reach Stansted than any other airport in the country.

Mr O'Toole pledged to upgrade its current carbon-neutral status to net neutral and said: "We do recognise the responsibility and influence that we as an airport have."

He said that approving the current MAG planning application was sustainable because the airport has committed to grow without increasing its current limit of 274,000 aircraft movements a year.

Instead, it will achieve growth using the most modern and environmentally-friendly aircraft and by ensuring maximum load factors.

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