Wednesday, 30 April 2008


According to the front page of our local paper, today is the day when it will finally happen. Other sources claim it was last week, next week or even (if a hastily formed pressure group get their way) never. What is the event that has provoked this mildly turbulent discussion? That would be the closure of Sheffield City Airport.

So far, everything I've read laments the loss of the airport, everyone seems to agree that losing it is a Very Bad Thing. Local millionaire Andrew Cook is following his principles of persistence by bankrolling a last ditch legal challenge to try to stop the runway from being dug up.

However the debate about the airport's demise is all a bit one-sided, so it's time to put the Three-Legged-Cat amongst the pigeons, because frankly, I'm absolutely delighted that the airport is closing.

Why? It's just a matter of perspective. I don't see the airport in terms of cheap holidays or benefits for local businesses. Having been unfortunate enough to live near a major airport I think of two things when I hear the word airport: noise and pollution. As a child I remember spending hours lying awake at night, trying desperately to block out the noise of the circling planes as they roared overhead - and we didn't even live under a regular flightpath. As for the pollution, the fact that I can't always see or smell the pollutants doesn't mean I forget about them.

Lets just consider what it would have been like if Sheffield's airport had been a success. It was never going to be a Heathrow or a Manchester, the runway was too short and there physically wasn't enough space for a large airport. However it could have developed into something akin to London City Airport, which may be small, but is certainly busy.

Sheffield City Airport could have handled much larger numbers of planes than it ever did, so it could have created plenty of disturbance for local residents. Pollution levels and the incidence of asthma in children in neighbouring areas were already concerns when the airport opened, I for one am pleased that we never got to see what happened if pollution from a busy airport had been added into the equation.

But Sheffield's Airport adventure never really got off the ground. There were some commercial flights for a while, but the number of destinations on offer was small. Some local businesses, including some that were somewhat less than legitimate, found that the airport was a convenient gateway to the city. Plans were made to expand the numbers of flights and for a while this happened, but it didn't last long.

Instead commercial airlines gradually pulled out, usually citing lack of profitability. The flying school that operated from Sheffield is moving to Doncaster's inexplicably named Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood Airport. All that is left is a handful of private planes, which brings us to the real reason for Andrew Cook's campaign to save the airport. It appears that he wants somewhere convenient to land his private jet.

I don't know whether I'm being old-fashioned or far-sighted here, maybe I'm just being naive, but I don't believe that simply because someone has the money to pay for excessive air travel, then they have the right to blight other people's lives with their noise and pollution.

The bottom line is that we don't need an airport for short-haul flights, some people might want one, but that's not the same thing. To me, flying makes sense only as a means of covering long distances or to access particularly remote areas.

Personally I see Sheffield's lack of an airport as a positive asset. It was one of the reasons that I chose to move here. I'm glad it's gone.

/climbs off high horse
/ends rant

Originally published here on my main blog
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