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Put a Lydd on airport expansion

The proposed expansion of a Kent airport will put at risk thousands of birds using one of the south-east’s most important and unusual wildlife sites, the RSPB is warning following the submission today of new planning applications for the site.

The operators of Lydd (or London Ashford) Airport in Romney Marsh, south-east Kent want to extend the site’s runway and build a new terminal to cater for a 100-fold increase in passenger numbers from fewer than 5,000 now to half a million annually. The airport owners have publicly stated their ambition to raise that figure to two million.

The airport is next to the RSPB’s 1,000-hectare Dungeness reserve, the charity’s oldest reserve and its largest in the south-east. About 60 different bird species breed on the site in spring and summer and in winter, the reserve and the area around it hosts more than 120,000 birds.

Reserve Site Manager, Bob Gomes, said: “The disruption to birds flying between feeding and roosting sites, especially in winter, could be huge. Only light aircraft and small executive jets currently use Lydd but larger, more frequent planes could have serious impacts on flocks of lapwing and golden plover which rely on the area in winter. The expansion could also blight our plans for creating new habitats and improving those we have, because the airport would be able to object.”

The Dungeness reserve is next to Lydd Airport on the Dungeness peninsula, the largest shingle formation of its kind in Europe. The reserve is 75-years-old and is part of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve.

The RSPB believes that in addition to endangering wildlife, planners should consider the consequences of airport expansion on climate change, the greatest long-term threat both to people and wildlife. The charity is urging planners to consider the new emissions cost assessment for aviation announced by the government (yesterday).

Chris Corrigan, RSPB Director for South East England said: “The threat posed by so many birds sharing airspace with such large planes is unimaginable. Dungeness is one of the UK’s most important sites for wild birds and it is ludicrous to even contemplate enlarging an airport next to it.

“There are far better ways of regenerating the area and using, rather than threatening, the natural assets that exist in such profusion would be a fine start.

“The government stressed (yesterday) its intention to make aviation meet its climate change costs. With a nuclear power station and two MoD firing ranges close to Lydd, and the almost complete lack of transport links to the site, you really do have a complete non-starter.”

More than 3,000 local people have signed a petition against the expansion with additional names being added each day. Plans to build an airport on Cliffe marshes in north Kent prompted huge opposition and a 150,000 petition in 2003, the largest lobby recorded against a single development. The government subsequently scrapped that proposal and the RSPB will call for a public inquiry to consider the plans for Lydd.

Chris Corrigan said: “Planners should be following the example of those at Stansted, where the council has rejected plans to increase passenger numbers. Air travel is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and airport expansion at Lydd, a site so obviously unsuitable, should not be allowed. Managing demand and providing less polluting travel alternatives are the areas in which the government should be investing.”

Cath Harris | alfa
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