SNP politician meets “overwhelming” opposition to controversial scheme

MSP Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Michael Gillen

MSP Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Michael Gillen

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Linlithgow SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop wants a new phase of a controversial air routes consultation to be mothballed, pending a review called for by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Her intervention follows a stormy public meeting earlier this month at which Edinburgh Airport chief Gordon Dewar was lambasted for seeking to press ahead with plans opponents claim could ruin the lives of people in areas including Blackness and Linlithgow’s Springfield area.

According to protest group Edinburgh Airport Watch (EAW) Ms Hyslop’s remarks are “the first time the SNP have been engaged on the issue” – which EAW predicts could be a major factor in next year’s local council elections.

Edinburgh Airport’s argument that new routes are needed to meet changing needs and necessary expansion have been dismissed as specious by EAW, which has accused airport management of seeking to railroad through complex plans without giving communities reasonable opportunity for analysis.

Now the group sees Ms Hyslop’s forthright call for a freeze on a new consultation phase as a surprise new development which underlines the strength of local feeling on the issue.

EAW spokeswoman Helena Paul said: “We have had engagement with every political party on this except one – the SNP – until now. We don’t accept people’s lives need to be changed to accommodate Edinburgh Airport’s plans – communities shouldn’t have to justify why they shouldn’t be forced to live with unacceptable noise.”

But this week a spokesman for Edinburgh Airport told the Journal and Gazette: “As agreed with our regulators at the Civil Aviation Authority - and in advance of commencing our Airspace Change Programme - we were given approval to commence and complete the ACP process in the timeframe set out in order for us to meet the increasing passenger demand at Edinburgh Airport, enable sustainable growth and to deliver the wider benefits including jobs for the tourism industry and gains for economy at large across the Lothians and Scotland.”

But Fiona Hyslop wants Gordon Dewar to delay a second phase of consultation to ensure that those who will be impacted the most by any changes in airspace have all the information available to them in order to fully participate in the consultation.

She said: “Many of the towns and villages within my constituency have already been adversely affected by both the TUTUR trial and other apparent changes to current airspace use, with a number of constituents reporting changes in frequency, volume and flight movement particularly within the GOSAM and GRICE routes.”

A local survey she conducted yielded “an overwhelming response” from more than 2,000 people.

Now, she says: “The question being asked at this stage is so general and vague that constituents currently unaffected by aircraft may not have thought it could have an impact on them in the future.”

‘Open and transparent’

Edinburgh Airport has thanked everyone who replied to the consultation on its Let’s Go Further air routes scheme, while giving an assurance that no changes to existing flight paths have ben made.

Despite deep scepticism from Edinburgh Airport Watch it says no changes can be made until a further stage of consultation – where specific routes will be proposed – is completed and approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

It argues the implementation of new routes would coincide with the use of RNAV technology at Edinburgh Airport, and that this would tighten the approach of departing and arriving aircraft from a dispersed approach to a more concentrated approach.

The airport’s director of communications, Gordon Robertson, said: “Our data analysis team are working on delivering a detailed report on the first stage of our public consultation, which will show detail on sentiment and the geographical spread of the feedback responses.

Crucially the responses we received will also help us map the design of the proposals we put forward for the second stage of the consultation – set to begin early in 2017.

“We recognise that some people have very real concerns. The aim of the consultation process is to allow us to grow to meet the ever increasing demand on our runway at peak times while minimising disruption on the ground.”

He made it clear the airport aims to press ahead with a further stage of consultation in January, and promised it would be “open, transparent and upfront with everyone as to why we are putting these flight path proposals forward”.

Edinburgh Airport Watch rejects the claim that the first stage of consultation was any of these things, and aims to mobilise opinion in areas likely to be affected by new routes.