Southend Airport was formally recognised as a municipal airport in the 1930s. It has operated commercially as a municipal airport for over 85 years. Through the 1960s until the end of the 1970s, it was London’s 3rd busiest airport until Stansted took this title from it. These past operations were conducted in the knowledge that the runway length restricted the type and size of aircraft that could use Southend Airport, thereby controlling the commercial nature of what was a municipal, rather than a main hub airport. Stobart Aviation took over control of the airport operations in 2008. In 2010, the airport received planning permission to extend the runway length by 300 metres. Extending the runway length significantly changed the dynamics of the commercial operations and the size of the aircraft that could use the runway and the airport facilities.
Prior to the change in the Section 106 agreement, the airport could conduct up to 900-night flights per month. The current Section 106 licence agreement between Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and the airport operator was a significant reduction and only permits up to 120 Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) per month at night (between the hours of 23:00 and 06:30). This excludes ATMs of an emergency nature or for other unscheduled reasons, such as diverted aircraft from other airports etc.
Due to the orientation of the runway in relation to the residential conurbations of Southend and Rochford, the direct impact the airport has on those living within the operational area of the airport and the flight path, is significant and disproportionately high when compared to almost all other major and municipal airports in the UK. This factor alone should not be underestimated in any considerations. Another significant consideration is that airports and aircraft noise are exempt from general ‘noise nuisance’ legislation, meaning that it is virtually impossible to take any effective localised action against aircraft or airport noise nuisance.
The airport is a polarising subject for Southend and its residents. Whilst the commercial benefits for the local economy must be acknowledged, this has to be in viewed in context and in contrast to the negative impacts its operations have on the environment and on residents who live under the flight path. Economic benefits alone should not be the overarching or single-minded consideration when evaluating the airport and its benefits and impacts on residents. Those that are not directly affected by the ground operations or the aircraft flight path and noise generally are supportive of the airport and its expansion plans. Those directly affected by the aforementioned, generally have a very different and opposing view.
The current CEO of Southend Airport was responsible for the rapid and significant expansion of Luton airport, taking it from under 2 million passengers annually to over 16 million passengers at its peak some 7 years later. A key factor of Southend Airport is that it has more land available to it to be developed than Luton airport has and in conjunction with the runway extension being granted in 2010, is now able to support expansion plans which can surpass the 16 million passenger numbers now being seen at Luton.
In relative terms, emissions from the aviation industry are a small percentage when compared to the rest of the transport sector. However, this does not escape the fact that a significant technological transition is taking place with most of the polluting modes of transport to greener, renewable energy solutions. Aviation will eventually adapt, but for many different determining factors, will not be able to keep pace with the transition of the other modes of transport. This means that for the foreseeable future, any increase in aviation activity will result in an increase in aviation emissions.
Southend Conservatives have, in the main, supported the development and expansion plans of the airport to date. What has to be acknowledged and carefully considered, is the continued and somewhat ambitious expansion plans of the Stobart Group in conjunction with the airport licence agreement permitting night-time Air Traffic Movements. Both of these will continue to have an increasing impact on the residents of Southend.
Taking all these factors into consideration, we have concluded that whilst we would continue to support the airport and some further controlled growth and expansion, we do not support the continuation of the night flights. We feel that whilst many accept the airport and the flights during the day, the night-time flights are simply a compromise too far and not justifiable as a means to an end. We will continue to explore every avenue possible to have the night flight quota removed from the Airport’s Section 106 Licence Agreement.