Brexit's unheeded impact on airports

As contingency planning for a crash-out Brexit receives the ‘boosterism’ of Boris Johnson, all eyes are focused on the preparations on both sides of the Channel. There is undoubted misery in store for the people of Kent and anyone brave enough to go on holiday whilst Operation Stack receives a large and unnecessary shot of steroids.  

This has, of course, been well documented in the press, and even the most favourable expectation of a few minutes’ delay at the border will lead to tailbacks of biblical proportions.

Yet here in the heart of England, as remote from the coast as it is possible to be, the contingency planning for our seaports is having a direct and as yet unseen effect. North West Leicestershire is the home of East Midlands Airport, an easily accessible and growing terminal.

It’s used by Jet2 and Ryanair as well as many of the package operators. It’s also one of the largest air freight centres in the UK, a rising star of the on-demand culture to which we have become accustomed. It is the UK hub for DHL and UPS and supports operations for TNT and Royal Mail.  

These massive logistics companies have taken root and have capitalised on the easy access to the M1 and M42, providing excellent North-South and East-West communication.  As the airport website claims, it gives access to ’89 per cent of England and Wales within a four-hour truck drive time’.

The airport also has a little-known secret: it is not required to limit the volume of night-time traffic, only being subject to slightly lower levels of average noise than in the day-time.

The air corridors in and out of East Midlands affect many local people, more so now that housing development has been unleashed, increasing the two largest towns of Coalville and Ashby-de-la-Zouch by around 40 per cent in ten years.

All this adds up to a situation that North West Leicestershire parliamentarian and arch-Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen MP has not been telling his constituents: that in order to take the pressure off the seaports, East Midlands Airport will see a reincarnation of the Berlin Airlift. This extraordinary feat lasted from June 1948 to May 1949, but when it started nobody knew when it would end. 

The details of the plan at East Midlands are sketchy as the local council is bound to a non-disclosure agreement. What is clear is that enormous amounts of time and money are being spent to progress arrangements for a no-deal departure.

North West Leicestershire voted by 61 per cent to 39 per cent to leave the European Union, spurred by Mr Bridgen’s condemnation of the European system, and by the visitation of Mr Johnson during the referendum campaign. 

Of course the rhetoric focused on the failings of our “friends and partners” in the EU, and on our ability to seize the glorious opportunities of the sunlit uplands, complete with rainbows and unicorns. The good people of our district now face the reality of that new future as the curtain is drawn back on a magical illusion that was promoted “without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely,” as Donald Tusk said earlier this year. 

In my role as a district councillor for the Green Party, many of the conversations I have with residents are around improving the environment and improving the quality of life. When I explain the impact a no-deal is likely to have in their immediate vicinity, I see what looks like the beginning of scales falling from eyes.

I fear it may not be until it is too late that clear vision is fully restored.

As our skies will fill with aircraft, and roads choke with congestion; as our air damages our health and our carbon targets are thrown into the bin along with all the Tory promises of a greener future, I wonder if our MP will think it’s all still a great idea.

Carl Benfield is a councillor for North West Leicestershire and parliamentary candidate for the Green Party.

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