Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Wexham's Airport Amnesia

Understandably for the significant number of residents living under or near to the flight path the news of Ryanair’s imminent arrival at Southend Airport linked with the greater awareness of flights in the summer when windows are open and gardens more used, has caused concern.

Such a situation obviously gives the perfect opportunity for some politicians to try to take advantage of the situation, linked with a convenient mistelling of history, to try to curry electoral support.

Accordingly it was no great surprise to read Lib Dem Councillor Peter Wexham’s latest comments in the Leigh Times.
Peter comments: “There is not much than can be done about it now because Southend’s Tory controlled council, at the time, made the lease very easy and flexible for Stobarts…I for one voted against the extension…and then during the negotiations we put forward a motion that there should be no night flights unless it was an emergency..but that was rejected by the Tory council. The airport company are free to do as they like because they are allowed so many night flights a month”.

What Peter does not mention is:
1. The existing airport lease contained almost no effective restrictions, particularly on flight numbers, night flights, noise levels or flight direction;
2. The current operators acquired the lease of the airport without discussion or agreement with the Council as landlord. If we had not negotiated a new lease with more effective restrictions they would have worked the airport within the current restrictions, no doubt to include more freight and significantly higher numbers of night flights;
3. This was not a new airport. It has existed for years and the runway was in place when most if not all of the affected homes were bought by their current owners. When I was young in the 70s the noise levels were far greater than now and permissible under the previous lease;
4. Whilst some of us representing wards to the west of the Town were concerned the reality was that the majority of councillors across ALL parties were strongly supportive of airport expansion because of the economic benefits. The grant of a new lease was inevitable and the option was either to stick our head in the sand and vote against any realistic compromise as it salved our personal conscience (like Peter Wexham) or to work with the situation as it was and concentrate on negotiating the best restrictions we could get which was the approach of me and my colleagues.

The Lib Dems therefore proposed no night flights cynically knowing that the airport would never accept this because of the obligations to the successful repair companies on site.

On the other hand we negotiated a stringent set of controls relating to noise levels, flight numbers, limited night flights, passenger numbers and uniquely directing that at least 50% of all flights took off and arrived from the north. This was enshrined in both the terms of the lease but also the planning conditions on the runway extension.

We also created a Monitoring Committee to check the airport played by the rules. Rather than bleating perhaps Cllr Wexham should be ensuring that Committee meets as soon as possible and that the restrictions are enforced. In the meantime he might care to point out to residents that the situation would have been far worse if left to him rather than the efforts of the then Conservative Administration!

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