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Council 'falls at first hurdle' since declaring climate emergency

Conservatives back Heathrow expansion - Lib Dems and Greens oppose

Local Democracy Reporter Alex Seabrook

LEP welcomes expansion of Heathrow

WEST Berkshire councillors have voted to support the expansion of Heathrow airport despite concerns about increased carbon emissions and in the wake of it declaring a climate emergency. 

Heathrow is planning to build a third runway and a public consultation on the issue closed last Friday. 

The night before, councillors voted to support the expansion of the airport, following a heated debate with a noisy public audience. 

Councillor for transport Richard Somner (Con, Tilehurst South & Holybrook) said rail and public services would improve. 

“Noise abatement technology has seen huge advancements. Heathrow would have some of the strongest regulations of night flights across Europe,” he said.

James Cole (Con, Hungerford & Kintbury) said: “It’s not about expanding flying or aviation. In my part of West Berkshire, we no longer suffer from air quality problems.”

The motion was opposed by the Liberal Democrat and Green opposition, backed by campaigners against the proposed expansion. 

Councillors unanimously declared a climate emergency in July with the aim of making the district carbon neutral by 2030. However, economics won out over concerns about the environment on Thursday and the Conservative majority voted in support of the expansion.

Green leader Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) said: “Are we that craven that we are happy to publicly acknowledge the appalling impact this expansion will have on people, but we don’t care because we will have the benefits?

“Air pollution might be localised, but carbon emissions know no boundaries. How is it possible for it to be zero carbon? Will they build a runway but not put any planes on it?” 

Supporting his Green colleague David Marsh (Wash Common) said many Conservative-led London boroughs were against the expansion. “It’s quite hard to find people in favour of it — Chris Grayling, and West Berkshire,” he said. 

But Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) hit back saying that the Greens were motivated by a “deep and sinister” agenda and that implementing Green economic policies would be “economic vandalism”.

The Liberal Democrats opposed the expansion, with opposition leader Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East) saying while he wanted his children to be able to fly and explore the world, most air travel was taken by business people. 

Dennis Benneyworth (Con, Hungerford & Kintbury), who works in international horse transport, said he used Heathrow last month to fly horses to Tokyo, and will do so again this week to fly 36 horses to Dubai. 

He said the expansion would help his industry and bring in revenue needed to pay for “ambitious plans to achieve carbon neutral status”.

Council leader Lynne Doherty (Con, Speen) said the UK’s CO2 emissions had been falling consecutively for six years.

“I’m proud of how far the UK has come. But I don’t believe demonising the aviation industry is the right direction to take,” she said.

Claire Willsher, from the West Berks Climate Action Network, said in a statement: “This was the first chance for the council to show the people of West Berks they were serious about their declaration of a climate emergency and they really would act accordingly.

“But they didn’t. Instead, they failed at the first hurdle.” 

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