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31 May 2019updated 08 Sep 2021 4:25pm

To save the planet, Britain’s councils need to divest their shares in airports

What people get wrong about the Green New Deal.

By Amelia Womack

It is great to see the Green New Deal, which the Green Party has been advocating since 2008, gaining traction. Investing in wind turbines and solar panels (now the cheapest energy, handily enough), supporting insulation of homes and public transport, are suddenly on the agenda of people and parties who before have scoffed at the idea.

But there’s something missing from the discussion. It’s that doing these things is instead of, not in addition to, the traditional, planet-trashing actions of the old economy.

They are not add-ons, but replacements, for airport expansion, for new roads, and the building of expensive housing estates with terrible environmental standards on the greenbelt, instead of the genuinely affordable social housing in locations with public transport and other services.

To put it another way: there is rightly lots of talk about divestment, with campaigns directly at universities and pension funds, banks and insurance companies, to stop funding climate change with their cash. We need to make the same demand of government.

This is something that some political parties seem not to have grasped.

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Manchester Airports Group owns three of the UK’s fast growing airports – Manchester, Stanstead and East Midlands, which between them transport around 60 million passengers a year. The group is majority owned by the ten Manchester local councils (eight of which are controlled by the Labour Party) and holds assets of over £3bn.

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This means that for these councils, pushing for growth and expansion of airports is financially beneficial at a time they need to be managed for reduction in use.

The Welsh government bought Cardiff Airport for £52m in 2013 and since then has grown passenger numbers from 1 million a year to 1.5 million. In addition, the Welsh government spends money on subsidising regular flights between north and south Wales, which cost nearly £2m last year and are looking at spending up to £80m on a new road linking the M4 to the A48, which would encourage more passengers to drive to the airport.

The Labour-controlled Welsh government is throwing more money at encouraging more people to fly: that is not only directly causing damage directly, but means this money is not being put in to new cycleways, local train stations and modern zero-emission buses.

Bristol Airport itself is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan which is seeking to expand the airport to increase capacity, and therefore use of the airport, by 30 per cent by 2025. The airport is already used by over 8.5 million passengers a year. OTTP also holds stakes in Birmingham and London City airport and has already faced pressure from Naomi Klein to divest from fossil fuel industries.

Now is time for governments, local and national, to show investors such as OTTP that the UK is serious about reversing the growth in flying, that this is not a growth industry, and that their money would be better invested in our green industries.

Other state or council owned airports include Derry Airport owned by Derry City Council, Newquay Airport owned by Cornwall Council, Luton Airport owned by Luton Borough Council Heathrow Airport is 10 per cent owned by the Universities Superannuation Scheme – a pension fund for people who have worked in universities in the UK, who are also the subject of campaigns to call for divestment from industries causing climate change.

So let’s challenge our politicians – local and national – every time they support a growth in flights. They should take flight from airport investments and put all available money in to a Green New Deal – investments that truly have a future.

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.

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