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The proposed runway expansion. (Photo: Southampton Airport)

Southampton Airport Runway Expansion Gets The Green Light

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some relief to the chronic shortage of runway capacity that has been plaguing the South-East of England for decades, a long-debated decision has taken a step to make a dent in the problem in the long run.

After 19 hours of discussion at Eastleigh Borough Council, an extension to the runway at Southampton Airport has been given the go-ahead. The runway will be lengthened by 164 meters (538 feet) in order to allow longer-haul flights to operate from the main airport on the Southern coast of England.

Hundreds of people followed the debate online and there were over 200 people registered to speak before the vote. In the end, at 2:15 am on Saturday morning 22 counselors voted in favor of the extension, with 13 against and one abstention, the BBC reports. The airport is the main landing point on the mainland for flights from the Channel Islands.

A Needed Boost

The airport is located four miles from the city center, 53 miles from London and it is owned and operated by AGS. After the extension, the runway will be 1887 meters, and in 2019 it had just over 1.7 million passengers.

The approved development also includes a blast screen to the north of the proposed runway, removal of the existing bund and the reconfiguration of the long-term car park to provide additional spaces.

Southampton Airport’s Operations Director, Steve Szalay, welcomed the decision as “the news that we had been hoping for.”

“By listening to the overwhelming public and business support, as well as the planning officer’s recommendation to approve, the councilors have safeguarded the future of the airport. The decision also ensures we are well placed to provide employment and support the region as we seek to recover post-pandemic,” Airways Magazine reports.

It is estimated this development will create 1,000 new jobs at the airport and jump-start the local economy after the pandemic-driven crisis.

The opposition to a longer runway has been fierce, fostered by environmental concerns and noise and pollution issues that would now affect more people. The Local Democracy Reporting Service said the number of people affected by noise would more than quadruple from 11,450 to 46,050, the BBC reports.

The Airport Expansion Opposition campaign group has issued a statement expressing their disappointment with the decision.

“Today’s decision is by no means the end of the matter. It is completely wrong, not only in principle but also in the way it was reached,” the statement read.

Other major airport expansion problems in the U.K. have encountered major legal hurdles and have been stalled for decades. The latest project for a third runway at London Heathrow has been declared unlawful in February 2020 but the decision was overturned last December and the project has received the go-ahead, but it will take many years before it is completed. A plan for a new runway at London Gatwick has been put on hold until at least 2030. Expansion at London Stansted is now subject to a public inquiry and is therefore uncertain at the moment.

Vanni Gibertini
Vanni Gibertini
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