Liverpool’s Last Remaining Countryside: Destroyed For Airport Expansion

Liverpool’s Last Remaining Countryside: Destroyed For Airport Expansion

Jane Hammett appeals for the protection of rural gem Oglet Shore and surrounding Greenbelt land from rapacious development.

Liverpool is in danger of losing a largely unknown rural gem in Speke if the airport’s planned expansion, based on wildly optimistic passenger numbers and backed by the Council in their 2018 Draft Local Plan1 goes ahead. This unnecessary and environmentally damaging development would see Green Belt protection removed from the area, and enable Peel Holdings to add to their 37,000 acre estate in the North West, in what many have seen as a blatant land grab. All this occurs in the context of a global pandemic and unprecedented change.

The Airport Plan

Liverpool airport, jointly owned by Peel and Ancala, with 10% retained by Liverpool City Council, plan to concrete over the land for “airport related activities.” Plans include a 464 metres runway extension east towards Hale and additional taxiways and aprons added to the west by Speke Hall (opposed by the National Trust), together with large footprint hangars and engine testing facilities. A major new road, the Eastern Access Corridor, will enclose Speke between that and the Boulevard2, adding to already high pollution levels3.

A re-launch of transatlantic flights is planned, despite a previous service being withdrawn in 2007 after only 6 months, due to poor passenger numbers4. This, and hopes of increased profits from freight, is based on a business model of, “if you build it, they will come”.

In reality, Liverpool airport, along with Edinburgh, has more spare capacity than any UK airport5 Passenger numbers peaked in 2007 at 5.5 million falling to 5 million in 20196. Despite this, the 2050 Master Plan, based on out-dated Civil Aviation Authority (C. A. A.) figures, predicts a linear growth in passenger numbers from 5.1m in 2018 to 8m in 2030 and over 11m in 20507. Mayor Anderson continues to endorse the airport’s claim of 6000 jobs and £250 million to the local economy, figures that remain unsubstantiated8. In short, the master plan is wishful thinking at best and downright deceitful at worst.

52 acres have already been fenced off, supposedly required by the C.A.A. for a RESA (Runway End Safety Area) although a much smaller area, 5 acres, would have sufficed9. This blocks Dungeon Lane, a centuries old access route to the Oglet shore for the people of Speke, and has destroyed a valuable wildlife habitat.


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Peel Land and Property

Peel’s track record suggests this expansion is just a smokescreen for a land grab rather than a genuine interest in the future of Liverpool airport.

The Peel empire10, covering vast swathes of the North West including the Trafford Centre, Media City, the Manchester Ship Canal and much of the land on the Liverpool side of the Mersey (including Liverpool Waters and Bootle), is banking on Liverpool and Halton Councils removing Green Belt protection11. This greatly increases land value.

They acquired the former Dunlop’s playing fields from the Council as essential for airport related business12. The land is now a Barrett’s housing estate. Similarly, Peel purchased Teesside, another under-performing airport, from Hartlepool Council in 2003 for £500,000, promising to turn its fortunes round, and “transform” it into a “premier regional investment site.” A clause hidden in the small print, gave them the option to close the airport if it could demonstrate it was, “no longer economically viable.” Blaming the world economic recession for poor performance, Peel sold the airport back to Hartlepool council, but not before submitting plans for a lucrative housing development13.

What is at risk

Natural England classifies the area south of the airport, known as the Oglet, as, ”some of the best and most versatile agricultural land”14. It is adjacent to the internationally important wetland areas of the Mersey which has RAMSAR status15. The fields, hedgerows, wooded cloughs and ponds that flank this neglected section of The Mersey Way are a vital and increasingly scarce habitat for bats, amphibians, insects, rare plants and birds16. It is home to many RSPB Red List farmland birds such as grey partridge, snipe and lapwings, which have suffered a 50% decline over the last 25 years17. Protected birds, including barn owls and lapwings, maintain a precarious foothold here, and it provides an important roosting, foraging and nesting area for the wetland birds of the Mersey, crucially at high tide. The mitigation measures Peel proposes: a new coastal reserve occupying an unspecified area of land between the river and new perimeter fence, do not compensate for the lost habitat – see box ‘The Extension to the Coastal Reserve’. Moreover, the adjoining Garston Coastal Reserve is nearing the end of its 25 year lease from Peel, and with no guarantee of renewal, its future remains uncertain. All this, together with the airport’s dedicated bird scaring unit, creates an incredibly hostile environment for wildlife.

The Oglet is a vital “Green Lung “in an area which has lost large amounts of open space in recent years and where life expectancy and the incidence of cardio vascular disease, cancer and breathing problems is higher than in the rest of Liverpool18. Since the lockdown, the Oglet has provided an invaluable open space for walkers, cyclists, runners and families from all around Liverpool. The benefits of nature on health and well-being are well documented and depriving local people of this resource to support a failing airport is unjustified.

Liverpool declared a climate emergency in July 2019 with the Metro Mayor recognising the “value of the region’s natural environment and open spaces and the multi-functional role they play in supporting wildlife habitats: increasing our resilience to climate change: improving people’s health and well being: and making the city region an attractive place to live, work, visit and invest.”19 This declaration sits uneasily alongside the airport expansion. Finally, these development plans come when globally, the devastating impact of the latest pandemic has had a dramatic effect on air and sea travel. In unprecedented moves, borders have closed and airlines have collapsed or stopped operations. The world that emerges after the pandemic could change the way we live and work, arresting the predicted rise in air travel in favour of more sustainable methods of international travel.

Please support our fight to stop Liverpool Airport expanding. Sign our petition and go on our Facebook page ‘Save Oglet Shore & Greenbelt’ to find further ways to object.
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-oglet-shoreline-1

The Extension to the Coastal Reserve: The extended coastal reserve would occupy a narrow strip of land bordering the extended airport. Just a short distance from this Internationally important area would be a high perimeter fence, access roads, aircraft manoeuvring and engine testing amongst other, “Airport related activities”. This “Reserve” would have to accommodate an earth bund to shield the Mersey Way from the Airport, a surfaced path for walkers and cyclists as well as , in Peel’s words, “a network of smaller fields with wider and more species rich hedges.” The mud cliffs bordering this are subject to serious cliff falls and slumping which would be exacerbated by the run off from the concreted land behind. With rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms affecting the cliffs to the south, and the disruption from aircraft activity to the north of the reserve, it is hard to see how this would constitute an improved wildlife habitat. The wooded cloughs (gorges or narrow ravines), would be ripped out, ponds filled in and the area available for roosting, feeding and nesting birds would be severely restricted. Add to this the disturbance caused by the dedicated bird scaring unit which operate to discourage bird activity in the vicinity of the airport and you have a seriously hostile environment for wildlife.

References

  1. Liverpool City Council Draft Local Plan 2018. Section 7.65., p.109. Available at: https://liverpool.gov.uk/council/strategies-plans-and-policies/environment-and-planning/plan-making-in-liverpool/current-local-plan-documents/local-plan/
  2. Liverpool John Lennon Airport Master Plan to 2050. Appendix 5., p.94. Available at: https://www.liverpoolairport.com/media/2566/ljla-master-plan-to-2050-full-document-1.pdf
  3. British Lung Foundation. (2020). The health and economic impacts of toxic air in Liverpool City Region. January 2020. Available at: https://www.blf.org.uk/policy/health-economic-impacts-toxic-air-in-liverpool-city-region
  4. Wikipedia. Flyglobespan Low Cost Airline: Transatlantic Flights from Liverpool withdrawn due to poor passenger figures on the Liverpool flights. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flyglobespan
  5. Airports Commission. (2013). Aviation Demand Forecasting. January 2013. Fig. 3.5, p. 20. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/73143/aviation-demand-forecasting.pdf
  6. Liverpool Airport Holdings Ltd. (2019). Group of companies’ accounts. Annual Report and Financial Statements for the Year Ending 31 March 2019. 06 December 2019. Available at: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/03385025/filing-history
  7. Liverpool John Lennon Airport Master Plan to 2050. Section 5., p. 29. Available at: https://www.liverpoolairport.com/media/2566/ljla-master-plan-to-2050-full-document-1.pdf
  8. Liverpool John Lennon Airport Master Plan to 2050. p. 38. Available at: https://www.liverpoolairport.com/media/2566/ljla-master-plan-to-2050-full-document-1.pdf
  9. Runway End Safety Area (RESA) documents: Sidlow, M. Aerodrome Inspector Civil Aviation Authority. (2012). Letter to Pauline Sheerer, Area Planning Officer, Policy, Planning and Transportation, Halton Lea, Runcorn. 23 May 2012; Architectural Plans. URS Infrastructure and Environment Ltd. (2012). Liverpool John Lennon Airport RESA Modifications. June 2012;
    Architectural Plans. Paul Fassam Geomatics. Chartered Land Surveyors (2012). Liverpool John Lennon Airport Dungeon Lane RESA Area Evaluation. Jan 2012
  10. Shrubsole. G. (2019). Who Owns The Country? The Secretive Companies Hoarding England’s Land, The Guardian Newspaper. Friday 19th April 2019. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/19/who-owns-england-secretive-companies-hoarding-land
  11. Liverpool City Council. (2018). Liverpool Local Plan 2013-2033. January 2018. paragraph 7.71, p.111. Available at: https://liverpool.gov.uk/media/1356834/01-local-plan-january-2018-final.pdf and Peel Airports. (2007). Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA). Airport Master Plan to 2030. November 2007. paragraph 7.3, p. 75, Available at: https://www3.halton.gov.uk/Pages/planning/policyguidance/pdf/evidencebase/areaspecific/ALL_LJLA.pdf
  12. Peel Airports. (2007). Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Airport Master Plan to 2030. November 2007. paragraph 6.105, p73. Available at: https://www3.halton.gov.uk/Pages/planning/policyguidance/pdf/evidencebase/areaspecific/ALL_LJLA.pdf
  13. Metcalfe, A. (2018). ‘You’ll need deep pockets’ airport owner warns after agreeing £40m sale to Mayor. Teeside Gazette Live. 4 December 2018. Available at: https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/youll-need-deep-pockets-airport-15505295
  14. 1997 The Secretary of State in agreement with the Inspector’s rejection of the 1993 Liverpool Airport Planning Application, “the development would also result in the loss of some of the best and most versatile agricultural land”. Hale Parish Council Objection to Halton Borough Council. (2019). Halton Draft Delivery and Allocations Local Plan. September 2019. Clerk@HaleParishCouncil.gov.uk
  15. Ramsar site: A wetland area of International importance , especially for wildfowl. From the Convention in Ramsar, Iran ,organised by UNESCO in 1971 with this country as a signatory. Available at: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=15398&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html SSSI: Site of Special Scientific Interest and SPA: Special Protection Area.
  16. Merseyside Biobank. (2018). Biodiversity Information Report. Site: Liverpool John Lennon Airport. MBB reference:2617-Public. 17 July 2018.
  17. Red List Birds are the category that are in most need of urgent action to stop their decline. 1 in 4 of the birds are in that category, and farmland birds constitute 12 out of the 26 on the list, having faced a 50% decline over the last 25 years. Many of these birds , such as skylarks, hedge sparrows, swallows, wagtails, grey partridge, thrushes and owls inhabit the Oglet fields and woods. Wetland birds such as curlew occupy the fields at high tide. British Trust for Ornithology. (2013). Meta Data for Bird Atlas 2007-11. Survey of the area for detailed lists of birds. December 2013.
  18. Illness and life expectancy statistics in Liverpool and Speke: Liverpool Public Health Epidemiology Team Liverpool City Council
  19. https://www.liverpoolcityregion-ca.gov.uk/climate-emergency-declared-for-liverpool-city-region/

4 Comments


  1. this is dreadful, had no idea they would try this agin…more likely to be a massive housing project

    Reply

  2. At a time when environmental considerations are uppermost in people’s minds, it is crazy that such a proposal should be resurrected. This area is a place where I and many other Liverpoodlians and people from further afield go to spend serene time with nature. It’s one of the few undeveloped spaces in Liverpool.

    All one has to do is look at how Peel Holdings manage their onerous possession of land around the area and the restrictions they place on visitors and ramblers alike. Any plans to develop the area must be opposed rigorously.

    Reply

    1. Please leave this beautiful piece of countryside alone. We don’t need anymore airport expansions. We just want to keep this lovely place a safe haven for wild life, the residents, visitors and families to go for walks, appreciate the landscape and for Oglet shore to be the unspoilt place in the future as it is today

      Reply

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