24th December 2007
2007 – A year of encouragement for SSE – less so for BAA
When Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) was established in 2002, many believed it was fighting a lost cause in opposing plans to make Stansted twice the size of Heathrow, especially since BAA had the Government’s full support. Year by year, however, it has become increasingly clear that determined opposition from local residents and external events can change the ‘inevitable’ into the ‘implausible’.
BAA undoubtedly had an ‘annus horribilis’ in 2006 with its takeover by Spanish-owned Ferrovial, the threat of a reference to the Competition Commission, a summer of disruption at Heathrow and the departure of half its senior management team. There was also the local setback when Uttlesford District Council refused BAA’s plans for unlimited use of the existing Stansted runway resulting in a Public Inquiry and yet another postponement of its planning application for a second Stansted runway.
Indeed, a year ago it was difficult to imagine that 2007 could be any worse for BAA and yet it has been. The problems at its airports have continued, resulting in condemnation from customers, the media and politicians alike. The Competition Commission is now actively considering a break-up of the company and, not surprisingly, the senior management exodus has continued.
On the financial front, BAA is struggling to find a way of coping with a £12bn debt mountain whilst at the same time finding the cash to fund its £1bn a year investment programme. BAA failed in its attempts to re-finance its borrowings during 2007 and now faces an even more difficult financial climate in 2008.
Today, BAA has still not submitted its planning application for a second runway at Stansted, more than four years after it was given Government policy support in the Air Transport White Paper. The planning application is expected soon but will be submitted on a speculative basis – a case of BAA keeping its options open and seeking to increase the value of Stansted Airport in the event that it has to be put up for sale. While BAA is insisting to the local community and the media that it is committed to a second Stansted runway, it is giving a very different message to its bankers and to the CAA. BAA has told its lenders that its investment plans represent “an option to build, not a commitment” and it has told the CAA that a second Stansted runway would not be financially viable.
Commenting on the way forward, SSE Campaign Director Carol Barbone said: “Amidst this turmoil and confusion at BAA, SSE remains as clear, consistent and committed today as on the day of its inception in 2002. Our objective is to contain the development of Stansted Airport within tight limits that are truly sustainable. Our key arguments are that unsustainable expansion would create unacceptable environmental consequences – locally and globally – and that far from there being economic benefits, further expansion of Stansted would have detrimental economic effects, locally, regionally and nationally.”
“Despite BAA’s current difficulties,” she continued, “there will be no let-up in our campaign in 2008. Indeed there will be no let-up until such time as this community can go back to living life in peace in the certain knowledge that Stansted will not become another Heathrow.”