Birmingham International Airport publishes two reports today which it insists shows that far from harming the quality of life for local people, a planned £120 million runway extension will have an overall benefit on health and employment.
But BIA directors were under pressure last night to explain why they ordered a second opinion-analysis of a £50,000 study by experts at Liverpool University which warned of health implications for children at 31 local schools, elderly people and anyone with circulatory or respiratory conditions.
The second report, a peer group review by RPS consultants of the Liverpool health impact study, concludes the extension is not likely to result in “any meaningful health outcome” from changes in air quality, while dismissing any chance of significant impact on children’s learning.
It says the net impact will be positive, creating almost 20,000 new jobs across the West Midlands with “subsequent benefits to health”.
BIA managers paid £10,000 for the review after Liverpool University declined a request to produce an easy-to-read summary of its complex 171-page academic report.
Airport acting managing director Joe Kelly said he wanted a “second opinion” in order to make sure the university analysis was properly understood. He added: “We believe it has helped our understanding and we will use both reports to produce a health management plan.
“The key message is that both reports conclude the runway extension offers a net benefit in terms of health impact.”
Mr Kelly said the Liverpool report failed to take into account a £10 million mitigation plan proposed by the airport which would provide extensive soundproofing for homes and schools, along with a health forum to monitor the impact of the longer runway.
He pointed out that the airport is under no statutory obligation to accompany its runway planning application to Solihull Council with a health impact study but had done so because it wanted to be transparent in addressing the concerns of local people.
West Midlands Friends of the Earth spokesman Chris Crean accused the airport of attempting to “create a positive spin and gloss over” adverse comments in the Liverpool University analysis. It was not the way a “blue chip” company should behave, he said.
Mr Crean added: “We commend BIA for ordering the impact study, but if they don’t take their medicine as a result of this it won’t do anything to improve the health of people living near the airport.”
Both reports underline the importance of the runway extension to businesses, which will benefit for the first time from non-stop flights to China, India, the west coast of America and South America.
The extension is likely to generate £824 million in additional income for the regional economy by 2030. The university report warns: “Not going ahead with the proposal would potentially disadvantage the West Midlands’ economic growth and development.”
The number of people likely to be “highly annoyed” by noise from the airport will increase by 1,859 by 2030. But the figure will be significantly reduced as a result of sound insulation, according to the RPS analysis.
The number of people experiencing highly disturbed sleep if the extension goes ahead will increase by 258 to 6,874 by 2022, but fall back by 2030.
The Liverpool University report states: “Although there may be net employment gains for the region resulting from the development of the proposed runway, there are a number of issues.
“This relates to the sensitivity of the employment/income forecasts, the lack of forecast data for the wider employment/income benefits, the lack of forecast data for the full environmental, social and health costs, and whether economic activity and income per capita will increase in those areas or groups currently experiencing below the regional average employment or income levels.”
The report predicts that exposure to noise will increase with or without the runway extension, increasing the proportion of children whose learning is detrimentally affected by noise.
“In the long term it could potentially disadvantage those children whose educational attainment may be affected by noise,” the document adds.