The controversial £17-million extension to the runway, which Southampton Airport says will allow it to “unlock opportunities for business and leisure travel” was officially opened on Thursday (Sept 21).
• Virtual Southampton Airport gets controversial runway extension
Article continues after this message...
As many Bitterne Parkers will recall, the journey to approval for the 164-metre extension in the face of considerable opposition was a turbulent one.
It took in a marathon 17-hour Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) area committee meeting in 2021 (which rejected the plan), followed by hours of deliberation, and then approval, at a full meeting of the Lib Dem-controlled authority – which itself had declared a climate emergency in 2019 and which urges residents to “Fly less” on its website.
Appeals from crowdfunded campaigners for a judicial review followed that.
Opposition to the plans was principally on the grounds of climate change, pollution and the expectation of more noise for thousands of residents .
When the court of appeal finally upheld EBC’s decision to approve the runway extension, the Group Opposed to the Expansion of Southampton Airport told the BBC it was a “deeply disappointing outcome for the thousands of people who will be adversely affected by the increase in noise and disturbance from the larger noisier planes that Southampton Airport hopes to attract through its expansion plans".
But those in favour of the expansion hail the jobs and regeneration they say it will bring, coupled with local flights to potentially further warmer climes.
BBC South transport correspondent Paul Clifton said in his report on the runway opening that the airport can “now handle fully-laden holiday flights to Mediterranean destinations, perhaps as far away as the Greek islands or north Africa, using the sort of aircraft flown by EasyJet or Ryanair”.
But, he added: “As yet, no airline has signed up for these longer sunshine flights.”
Regional rival Bournemouth, meanwhile, posted last week that it expected to see further Ryanair European destinations added to its summer 2024 roster over the next few weeks.
More buoyantly, Eastleigh’s Conservative MP Paul Holmes, who has been an advocate for the Southampton runway project, said: “The works will secure 2,000 jobs and cement Southampton Airport’s status as a viable regional alternative to the main airports in and around London and will undoubtedly help to regenerate the town of Eastleigh.”
Taken before the extension
The airport reported that guests to the opening included aviation minister Baroness Vere, as well as politicians, including Holmes, and fellow MPs Caroline Noakes, Royston Smith, Alan Whitehead and Steve Brine.
Cllr James Duguid, cabinet member for transport at EBC, and Cllr Eamonn Keogh, cabinet member for environment and transport at Labour -controlled Southampton, which had opposed the extension, also attended the official opening, the airport said.
Quoted by Eastleigh News, an EBC spokesperson said: “Eastleigh Borough Council has been pleased to work with the airport to help safeguard its future and ensure that this important part of the Solent area’s connectivity is enhanced.
“This will also help to bring greater prosperity, create more high-skilled, well paid jobs in the area whilst at the same time securing tough controls to safeguard our environment.”