Manchester Airport - the concrete shadow spreads

Earthworks under way and trees felled at the 'World Logistics Hub' site. Photo: Jonathan Gatward /
Earthworks under way and trees felled at the 'World Logistics Hub' site. Photo: Jonathan Gatward /
The new Manchester Airport Enterprise Zone is causing the piecemeal environmental destruction of Green Belt countryside, reports Rose Bridger - all sacrificed to an archaic vision of fossil-powered economic growth.
Airport centric urban sprawl is metastasizing over green space, locking in reliance on fossil fuel intensive infrastructure.

A vast swathe of open countryside is being lost to construction projects to support the growth of air traffic at Manchester Airport.

The development of an Enterprise Zone, link road and 9,000-space car park is proceeding apace in the face of resistance from local communities. 

And the Government is backing it all to the hilt - even though the planned increases in air and road travel make a mockery of its greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments.

If the developers get their way - which barring a massive upsurge in resistance they will - far more will go the same way.

A flagship project

Planning permission is being granted in a piecemeal fashion, so there is little publicity of, or opportunity to oppose, the overarching goal: increasing climate damaging transportation.

Manchester Airport City Enterprise Zone is a flagship project of the UK Government. The plan is for development in stages on parcels of land, including south of the district of Wythenshawe, formerly in the Green Belt.

The designation ensured strict controls on development. But since the government changed the law, in July 2012, the usual planning procedures can be circumvented.

Earthworks underway and trees felled at World Logistics Hub site. Photo: Jonathan Gatward

Will the Enterprise Zone create jobs - or suck them away?

Construction of a key component of the Enterprise Zone, the World Logistics Hub, comprising 43 warehouses, office space and a 1,473 space car park on former greenbelt land around Sunbank Lane has already commenced. Earthworks, tree felling and installation of drainage are already under way.

The site contains fields used for grazing and is a haven for wildlife hosting oak trees, hedgerows and 12 ponds. Some of the ponds are occupied by Great crested newts, an endangered species meant to be protected across the EU under the Habitats and Species Directive.

Businesses will be lured to the Enterprise Zone with tax breaks: a business rate discount of £275,000 per eligible business over a five year period, tax credits for research and development and enhanced capital allowances.

Undoubtedly, this will attract tenants, but this does not necessarily mean creation of new jobs. Pre-existing jobs will be displaced as businesses relocate to take advantage of the subsidies.

Industrial, warehouse and office space in surplus

The cost of the business rate discount will be met by the Treasury and future business rate income will be "retained and deployed to support the Greater Manchester economic priorities of the Greater Manchester local authorities and their partners."

Airport centric urban sprawl is metastasizing over green space, locking in reliance on fossil fuel intensive infrastructure.

The community has no direct say in the allocation of future business rate income, assuming that there is a net increase. The 'economic priorities' of Greater Manchester and its partners may well include continued preferential treatment for aviation dependent firms.

Government backing for the Enterprise Zone suggests a desperate shortage of business space in the area. In fact, there is a surfeit of empty offices, warehouses and paved areas.

At the time of writing, a property website listed 327 industrial premises available to rent in Manchester. Thousands upon thousands of square metres of warehouse and office space is languishing empty; the largest vacant sites boast several hectares of available space.

There is no need for more prefabricated grey sheds to be plonked down on precious remaining countryside. Regeneration of established urbanisation would preserve green space.

Passenger numbers and freight tonnage are falling

Success of the Enterprise Zone is heavily dependent upon passenger and cargo growth at Manchester Airport. The Masterplan forecasts up to 38 million passengers by 2015, and 50 million by 2030.

But current passenger numbers, 20.6 million in 2013, are actually lower than in the years preceding the economic downturn.

Reaching the anticipated cargo volumes of 250,000 tonnes by 2015 would only be possible with an unprecedented turnaround. In recent years cargo has plummeted, from 151,000 tonnes in 2006 to a current level of 100,000 tonnes.

The biggest development since the Olympics

Manchester Airport City is the core component of the Enterprise Zone. With a 64 hectare site to the north of the airport, it is the largest UK development project since the Olympics.

The goal is to emulate airports such as Frankfurt, Schiphol and Copenhagen, which are surrounded by urban development.

Proponents talk the talk of how the development will benefit the regional economy. But it aims to be a destination in its own right, maximising the time passengers spend within the airport city: attending meetings in offices, shopping, enjoying entertainment and leisure facilities and staying in hotels.

Prioritising tenants that will use air services will increase the airport's passenger numbers and cargo volumes, and establish a symbiotic relationship between growth of the airport and growth of the aviation dependent businesses clustered around it.

A veneer of greenery is planned: a park, an "iconic landscaped pedestrian green bridge" over the M56 motorway and a "natural habitat corridor linking to off site green spaces to encourage wildlife". The latter is ironic as the wider Enterprise Zone project is gobbling up green space.

Manchester Airport City aims to increase trade with China, and the Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) has made an investment of £12 million.

The China card

Flying in more high value goods from China, such as electronic products, is obviously feasible. But the UK manufacturing sector is fragile. A recent increase in manufacturing output and exports still leaves a gaping trade deficit.

In September - November 2013 the UK's trade with China hit record highs, but exports of £3.3 billion were dwarfed by imports of £8.6 billion. The value of goods imported to Manchester Airport could be higher than the value of goods exported, draining the regional economy.

Employers in the airport's catchment area could use air services to outsource manufacturing to cheaper locations in China. Maybe Manchester Airport will focus on exporting pigs to China.

A few months ago, the airport reported that pigs were being flown to China, up to 900 at a time in Boeing 747s. Major UK pig breeders were benefiting from China's massive increase in pork production.

Conflicts of interest?

If the Airport City makes a profit, private firms stand to take a hefty slice of it. Manchester Airports Group (MAG) holds a 50% stake, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund 10%. Carillion, a major construction and facilities management firm, has a 20% stake, as does BCEG.

Carillion and BCEG are acting as co-contractors - the two firms are anticipated to set up a consortium to deliver the scheme. So, in addition to entitlement to a proportion of profits as part owners, Carillion and BCEG are set to benefit from payment for contracts.

Carillion estimates it will deliver £580 million of construction work for the Airport City. It is also set to cash in on a new link road to improve access to the Airport City Enterprise Zone.

In a joint venture with construction firm Morgan Sindall the firm has been awarded the contract for building a 10 kilometre stretch of dual carriageway connecting the A6 in Hazel Grove, via the existing A555, to the airport.

Money no object for roads - public transport slashed

Stockport Council granted planning permission for the road even though a public consultation saw just nine letters in support, far outnumbered by 102 against. Cheshire East and Manchester City councils have yet to vote on the road project, but the £290 million funding package was approved in August 2013.

£185 million is public funds: £165 million of specific Department for Transport capital grant plus £20 million Local Transport Plan (LTP) funding.

The remaining £105 million is additional capital grant funding from the Government through the 'Earn Back' model, whereby funds are borrowed from future business rates, based on a risky assumption of economic growth.

Funding for the road has been granted as councils cut services and jobs. Stockport Council announced £12 million cuts hitting libraries, after school clubs, a youth centre and other services. Swingeing cuts to public transport in Greater Manchester include reducing support for bus services by £7.1 million.

Carr Wood, a bluebell wood with a carpet of flowers in spring, is in the path of the planned ‘relief road'. Photo: Joanna Hulme

No 'relief' for residents

Described as a ‘relief road', the link road threatens the very opposite of ‘relief', afflicting communities with loss of green space, noise, health damage from air pollution and light pollution at night.

PAULA (Poynton Against Unnecessary Link-Roads To The Airport), a group of residents from Poynton, Hazel Grove, and Bramhall opposed to the road, has raised many important environmental concerns:

  • The route through Cheshire East is entirely on greenbelt land.
  • Trees that are 400 years old and Carr Wood, a 1,000 year old bluebell wood, are in the path of the planned road.
  • A section of the route cuts through a flood plain, so would either be elevated on bunds, creating visual blight, or require a costly drainage system.
  • Several schools are close to the route, one just metres away, so children would be exposed to high levels of traffic fumes.
  • Concerns that the road will lead to urban sprawl alongside it were confirmed by a phone number on the official website, for developers interested in buying land.

Eco-disaster, economic ignorance

Analyses of the road plans, commissioned by the Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT) and the North West Transport Roundtable (NW TAR), are heavily critical of the assessment of environmental impacts.

Consideration of loss of hedgerows, greenbelt and agricultural land was inadequate, as was the effect on air quality, including in areas where air pollution levels already breached EU legal limits.

The report also demolished the economic case for the road. A simplistic presumption that road building creates economic benefits has been discredited and the relief road relies heavily on traffic growth forecasts that have been overtaken by events; car traffic has actually reduced.

Economic activity is likely to be displaced from existing centres, as businesses would be attracted by the tax breaks at the airport Enterprise Zone.

Roads all about airport growth - at any cost

The link road project is dressed up as a scheme to benefit communities by easing traffic congestion, but the main goal is to facilitate growth at the airport.

Furthermore, construction would trigger an entire new network of co-dependent roads. Already, a second 'relief' road has been proposed.

Connecting the 'relief' road to the M60 motorway, the route would run northwards through a green corridor in Bredbury, impacting on ancient woodland.

Both roads are among 600 throughout England and Wales that were planned, then abandoned, in the 1990s. Now the road plans have been resurrected by the government. CfBT describes them as ‘zombie' projects.

A 9,000 car park is under construction on green space near the end of a runway. Photo: Jonathan Gatward

Parking for 9,000 cars on former Green Belt

Yet more former Green Belt land is to be concreted over for a new airport car park, with 9,000 spaces.

Moss Nook, near the end of a runway, is being sacrificed to provide 6,000 new car park spaces and replace an existing 3,000 space car park which is being repurposed for the Airport City.

Planning permission was granted contrary to the votes of local ward councillors and in spite of strong opposition from residents, 120 of whom turned up at the decision making meeting. A petition with 2,200 signatures was submitted - and ignored.

A danger to the public

Already under construction, the site is near the end of a runway, in a 'public safety zone' - where development is normally restricted to reduce risk to people on the ground in case of aircraft accidents on landing and take-off.

Safety has been compromised. Should a plane collide with the car park an explosion of jet fuel could be compounded by explosion of thousands of cars' petrol tanks.

In the recent extreme weather a plane's wing almost clipped the runway as it landed in gale force winds, a warning sign that climate change necessitates revision of air safety regulations.

Development for its own sake

Expansion of Manchester Airport, and its supporting road infrastructure, is a bonanza for the construction industry, but devastating environmental impacts are already evident and the economic case has not been made. It is development for its own sake.

Airport centric urban sprawl is metastasizing over green space, locking in reliance on fossil fuel intensive infrastructure.

Stop Expansion at Manchester Airport (SEMA) and other campaign groups are working hard for more sustainable alternatives - building on the success of improved public transport in Manchester, constraining aviation growth and shifting to surface transport, but their voices are not being heard.



Petition: Poynton Against the A555 (Petition Buzz)

Rose Bridger (@RoseKBridger) is the author of Plane Truth: Aviation's Real Impact on People and the Environment, published by Pluto Press in October 2013.



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