Reduce flights to fight climate change, says mayor – but not at my local airport

·3-min read
Doncaster Sheffield Airport is under ‘strategic review’ (DSA)
Doncaster Sheffield Airport is under ‘strategic review’ (DSA)

A northern mayor who has called for fewer flights to help fight climate change is facing criticism – after calling for more flights from his own local airport.

Oliver Coppard, the Mayor of South Yorkshire, says global aviation needs to be both reduced and made more sustainable to combat planetary warming.

But, after it was revealed Doncaster Sheffield Airport was facing closure, he has vowed to do everything he can to save the facility – including bringing more flights in.

The apparent contradiction comes after a poll this weekend revealed that people wanted more to be done to combat climate change – but weren’t necessarily prepared to do it themselves.

Speaking to The Independent, Mr Coppard said: “The problem isn't those people who want to go away on their holidays to Tenerife, like you get at Doncaster Sheffield Airport. It's the people that fly routinely for relatively short journeys in order to save themselves time crossing the continent, right?

“That's where the problem of too many flights is created, and, of course, you can drive down that while also having a regional network of airports which is which is thriving…I don’t think that’s contradictory or a silly statement to make. But yes, over time, we also need to work on the aviation industry and sustainability there.”

The Labour mayor added added that bigger airports like Heathrow and Manchester would not need expanding if flights were more evenly located around the country - which would also help woth levelling up.

The controversy comes after Peel Airports – which owns the DSA – launched a six week consultation on the facility’s future, saying it “may no longer be commercially viable”.

In a statement last month, the group said the airport "never achieved the critical mass required to become profitable" – despite more than a million passengers using it every year.

Politicians across the board – including Don Valley Tory MP Nick Fletcher and Sheffield Heeley’s Labour member Louise Haigh – have since called for the facility to be saved with Mr Coppard leading the charge by convening a working group to analyse if a mix of public and private investment could ensure it continues to run.

But climate activists have slammed the actions saying that no public money should be spent on artificially retaining a commercially failing airport in an age of climate crisis.

“We need to reduce aviation emissions across the board if we are to meet our climate commitments and if the private owners can’t make an airport work, the state certainly shouldn’t be stepping in to save it,” said Jenny Bates, transport and air pollution lead with Friends of the Earth. “We should be using that time, money and energy to transition jobs into a new green economy and improve less polluting transport connections.”

She added that, while some might see losing an airport as an economic and status hit, the region’s leaders should view as an opportunity to lead the way on a cleaner, more localised future.

“I don’t think in this day and age there should be any stigma attached to closing an airport,” she said. “I think, if the land can be used for green jobs and possibly homes - turn it into a green hub - it is a step into a better future.”

Baroness Natalie Bennett, the former leader of the Green Party who now lives in Sheffield, agreed and said the airport should be allowed to close.

“What we need to do is look at ways to support our economy based on our legally-binding climate commitments and supporting local businesses,” she said. “That is not consistent with investing in an airport.”

She added that much public money had been spent on infrastructure supporting the facility during its 17 year history and there should be some attempt to claw that back should Peel shut it.

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