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‘Masterplan’ for larger Newcastle Airport would cause more harm than good, warns Green Party

The Newcastle Green Party has highlighted the serious threats posed to climate targets and to public health in response to Newcastle International Airport’s vision for future expansion. Consultation closed last week on Newcastle Airport’s ‘Masterplan 2035’, which sets out a vision for 75% growth in passenger numbers to 2035. In their response, the local Green Party raised strong concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and damage to the health of local people from worsening air and noise pollution.

The UK signed up to the UN’s Paris Agreement in 2015, with strict targets to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Aircraft produce more than 20% of UK transport emissions and this proportion is increasing.

Aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and aircraft burn more fossil fuel per passenger or ton-mile than other modes of transport. The greenhouse warming effect of one unit of aviation fuel is generally held to be several times that of fuel burnt by terrestrial modes of transport.

The UK Committee on Climate Change estimate that aviation growth must be below 45% up to 2050 to stand a chance of meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement. Newcastle Airport’s Masterplan envisages 75% growth in passenger numbers by 2035. Newcastle Green Party oppose this growth target, and the associated increases air pollution, noise, road traffic, loss of green space, and disruption for residents in the area.

Newcastle Green Party member and climate change researcher, Alistair Ford, said “The North East should not be expanding airport capacity when action to reduce air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions is becoming increasingly urgent. More flights at Newcastle Airport would take us in the opposite direction to our national and international legal obligations, and the resulting increase in road traffic would worsen already- illegal levels of air pollution. The impacts of climate change and costs to our NHS must be prioritised. The Masterplan sets out a vision for growth that is grossly incompatible even with current government policy.”

The Airport’s Masterplan sets out intentions to expand road access to the airport, including the A1/A696 & A66 with an under-provision of more sustainable transport to the airport for customers and staff. Only 12% of passengers currently arrive by Metro, and over a quarter of flights check-in or land outside of Metro operating hours. Air pollution from road traffic is linked to numerous health problems and The Royal College of Physicians reported that air pollution costs the UK over £20 billion every year. A study of aircraft noise around London’s Heathrow airport published in The British Medical Journal found that high levels of aircraft noise was associated with increased risks of hospital admission and death for stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease in the nearby area.

Newcastle Green Party member, Dr Clare Andrews, said “These negative impacts of increased air and noise pollution would likely affect more than the extra 5000 people stated in the Masterplan, since new housing developments are already planned for the Dinnington, Callerton, and Hazelrigg villages in the coming years. The public health impact and resulting costs to the NHS of additional air pollution generated by the expansion of Newcastle Airport would offset against any regional economic benefits, which themselves are questionable”.

The Newcastle Green’s questioned that increased air traffic would bring economic growth to the region, arguing that the Masterplan is not future-proofed. Impending development of HS2 will provide alternatives for domestic travel, with London Heathrow the popular destination for passengers at Newcastle Airport. The Masterplan also anticipates an increase in air cargo but the increase in air traffic will eat into the UK’s carbon budget, with more CO2 emitted from air travel meaning lower allowances for North East industry and businesses. Any increased regional tourism must be traded-off against losses from outgoing tourists”. Currently such tourism deficit stands at £1.33 lost by outgoing tourists for every £1 brought in by tourists to the UK.

The Green Party has opposed expansion of Heathrow Airport, and supports instead further development of international ferry and rail links. The Newcastle Green Party advocate investment in the Netherlands ferry link to mainland Europe (Amsterdam is currently the third busiest route from Newcastle Airport) as well as the reinstatement of ferries to Scandinavia rather than continued expansion of air travel from what is already North England’s second largest airport.