Report on the Liverpool Green Party meeting about the proposed expansion of John Lennon Airport

Robin Tudor  from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and colleagues from Peel Group, answered questions on their plans to expand the airport over the Oglet Shore.

The main thrust of the argument for expansion of the airport lies in the company’s forecast of the increase in passenger numbers. This was about 1 million in the 90’s, is now about 5 million and it is suggested will rise to 7-8 million in 2030, and 11 million in 2050. Peel already owns the land referred to for use in their published plans. These increases are seen to justify using more of the land for buildings and facilities to support more passengers and staff, more maintenance, more third party businesses like hotels etc. The growth numbers were hotly disputed from the floor as they greatly exceed the forecast numbers put out by the Department of Transport for aviation growth in the UK, particularly that share of it available to regional airports when the third runway at Heathrow is open. The Peel staff argue their forecast is correct as it is influenced by local conditions and their marketing and other plans.

My feeling is that the local forecast is at the least bullish but the available information does not allow any close analysis. The high growth rate is seen to drive great growth in both skilled and manual labour jobs working for LJLA, working for third parties on the airport site, and in businesses attracted to Liverpool by the airport facility. Job creation is an attractive benefit given that Liverpool has 31% of households with no person in work according to the GMB. We again don’t know the number of jobs that will be created per million new passengers per year so together with the uncertainty in the growth figures the real benefits are difficult to assess. Also, to create jobs in Liverpool away from the airport require businesses investing in the North West to believe that LJLA will . like Manchester, have reliable connections to major European hubs like Schiphol and Frankfurt. Thus far the airport has not achieved long lasting services of this kind.

On wildlife the airport has employed well respected consultants to develop areas that will encourage stable although not growing populations of lapwing and curlew. Areas will be planted to encourage mammal and invertebrate biodiversity, provided such development does not encourage more birds on to the site. Birds will be lethally controlled if necessary but the Peel team undertake to make this a last resort. They will increase the size of the nature reserve at the west end of the site and accept keeping the Mersey Way open via new entrances once Dungeon Lane is closed. However, the apparent tidal erosion of the path lies outside of their control in their view and in at least one place the way has collapsed such that a route along the foreshore must be followed.

While job creation would be very welcome, the strongest green argument for increasing the use of the airport lies in reducing motor transport. Millions of car journeys are made from the Merseyside area to Manchester Airport, plus HGV journeys to carry freight to Birmingham and Manchester Airports. Assuming motor transport continues to be a major CO2 and air pollution emitter this looks to be a major benefit. However, there needs to be a place in the LJLA plan to improve transport to the airport-bus services, direct train services, cycle lanes would greatly help.

Much of the land Peel own and wish to develop over the next 30 years is green belt. Any change to allow development will occur following the publication and enquiry into the local plans by Liverpool, and by Halton Councils. The enquiry into the former should occur very soon, that into Halton’s is likely to be much later.

My instinct is to resist development swallowing more green sites. In this case there may be real benefits in reducing overall CO2 and air pollution with an increase in well paid jobs as a bonus. To confirm that we need well justified growth figures, well justified figures for the increase in pollution that goes with that growth, and well justified figures that demonstrate a net fall in such pollution if more Merseyside passengers and freight routinely use LJLA rather than other airports. And perhaps we need to encourage research into how to preserve the Mersey Way.

Interesting fact I did not realise—the LJLA team state that the closure of Dungeon Lane is not part of their long-term developmental plan for the airport but is a requirement of the Civil Aviation Authority for the safe operation of the airport in its current form—they do not like people and cars close to the end of the runway.