BAA’s airport monopoly was broken up even further last week with the announcement of a winning bid of £1.5billion for Stansted Airport. Manchester Airports Group (MAG) is the new owner. After the fight of the decade, will this be good news or bad news for ancient woodland?
The Woodland Trust has not seen any definitive evidence to prove that there is a real need to expand airport runway capacity within the UK. We are particularly concerned that any development should not come at the expense of the natural environment. No airport expansion that would impact upon any environmentally sensitive site can be viewed as environmentally acceptable.
The local campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), which we have worked with over the last decade and has been instrumental in continuing the fight against an expansion, has given a ‘cautious welcome’ to the purchase. The group’s Economics Adviser, Brian Ross, makes the point that airports with one runway can accommodate up to 45 million passengers… so, with 18 million passengers, Stansted could grow without the need for a second runway.
MAG does have experience of building new runways. As a woodland conservation charity the Trust’s primary consideration is that what remains of our ancient woodland is not lost or damaged further. Ancient woodland, together with ancient, veteran and notable trees, represents an irreplaceable semi-natural habitat that still does not often benefit from full statutory protection. This is particularly relevant as ancient woodland is still facing considerable threats – our research shows that more than 100 square miles (or 5% of the total remaining amount) of ancient woodland in the UK has come under threat from destruction or degradation through the planning system in the last decade. It feels relentless. An application for a second runway could make this figure even more concerning than it already is.
At Stansted there are 6 ancient woods. All of these were under threat for ten years while proposals for a second runway were submitted, debated, opposed and finally dropped, with a little extra assurance coming from the Coalition’s Programme for Government pledge to refuse permission for new runways at Gatwick (where even more ancient woods lie fearful) as well as at Stansted. Will MAG, as the new owner – and with a global fund manager now owning a percentage of the company in return for stumping up the cash – want to stamp their mark on their new purchase? Will we see those plans back on the drawing board?