After endless debate and prolonged lobbying both climate change activists and business leaders scored points in the fight over Birmingham Airport’s runway extension.
The decision of Solihull Borough Council’s planning committee to grant approval to the scheme appeared to be a win for those in favour of the controversial plans.
But it was far from a knockout blow to climate change campaigners as the backing was only granted subject to stringent planning conditions.
Members of the planning committee unanimously declared themselves “minded to approve” the 400metre runway extension, but asked for more detailed work on the Section 106 agreements governing the impact of the airport on the local environment.
Chairman of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Jerry Blackett was muted in his response to the decision.
“I’ve got to be pleased that we had a unanimous verdict,” he said. “But there is a little bit of me that is frustrated that there is now clearly a negotiation that needs to be completed. There is a deal to be done and I don’t want any of that to delay building the thing.
“The big thing is that they are looking for reasons to do it, not reasons not to do it.”
Councillors debated deep into the night as the council agonised for four-and-a-half hours over its biggest decision in a decade. Local residents, business leaders and environmental campaigners took turns to argue their case, as more than a dozen views were offered to the planning committee.
With officers’ reports and the impassioned pleas of those on both sides of the argument it was three-and-a-quarter hours before the committee members began their own debate.
In the end they came to a compromise, a decision which offers hope to the scheme’s opponents and a degree of comfort to its supporters.
West Midlands Friends of the Earth organiser Chris Crean said: “The devil is in the detail on a thing like this. Given the huge amount of pressure the business community has placed on the council, tonight was a huge step forward.”
Local residents were also optimistic and vowed to continue their fight for stricter controls on noise levels, flight paths and night flights.
James Botham, secretary of Birmingham Airport Anti Noise Group, said: “We welcome this decision to have more time to work with the council on the details of this application. Not making a final decision was probably the best we could have hoped for and the best decision the council could have made.”
BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT RUNWAY EXTENSION TIMELINE
* July 2002 – A Whitehall consultation paper, which envisaged a doubling of UK air travel to 300 million passenger movements a year by 2030, proposes a second runway for Birmingham International Airport and the construction of a new £7 billion airport in Warwickshire.
* December 2003 – Transport Secretary Alistair Darling gives the second runway proposal for Birmingham Airport initial approval.
* January 2004 – Plans for the new airport in Warwickshire are scrapped, leaving the way open for expansion at Birmingham International Airport.
* September 2007 – BIA announces that plans for the second runway are to be shelved indefinitely amid decreasing demand and a growing debate over climate change and the environment. The airport says it plans to extend the existing runway and build a third passenger terminal.
* January 2008 – Bosses at the airport submit plans for a 400metre runway extension towards Bickenhill and Hampton-in-Arden to Solihull Borough Council.
* June 2008 – Work begins on the construction of a new ‘International Pier’ at the airport. Construction of the new three-storey building is aimed for completion in time for the 2012 Olympics.
* December 2008 – Solihull Borough Council meets to discuss the runway extension planning proposals. Approval is given, but with strict conditions on environmental issues.