Last week’s marathon meeting of Shepway District Council was a triumph
for local democracy.
Under the good-humoured chairmanship of Councillor Susan Carey, who
presided over proceedings with a fair but firm touch, councillors spent
nearly seven hours in a serious, thorough and utterly conscientious
examination of the issues. Searching questions were asked and answered.
And those members of the public who addressed the council did so with
moderation and restraint.
The vote, when it came, reflected the seriousness which councillors
brought to the occasion.
Votes were not cast in strict party lines. The Leader of the Council and
the Chairman of the Conservative Association voted on different sides.
So did councillors who were father and son. But the result was a
convincing majority in favour of granting planning permission for the
extension of the runway and the construction of a new terminal at Lydd
Naturally, not everyone was pleased by this outcome. This has been a
very controversial campaign, arousing strong feelings on both sides. And
there are, in truth powerful arguments on both sides.
The first issues that councillors had to decide was whether they were
satisfied beyond reasonable doubt, that no damage would be done to the
various specially designated areas in the vicinity of the airport. They
were presented with conflicting sets of expert evidence and had to make
up their minds which to accept.
Only after deciding those questions in the affirmative, which they did,
were they able to move on to consider whether they approved the two
planning applications, balancing factors such as extra noise against the
economic advantages of the proposals.
Shortly before the meeting I was able to reach an agreement with the
operators of the airport to compensate householders who may suffer
increased noise levels. This does not mean that I expect this to cause a
serious nuisance. It does mean that those who are understandably
concerned that extra noise might affect the value of their property have
a degree of reassurance that this Five Communities Scheme, as it is to
be called, will give them a degree of protection.
Taken as a package it is a more effective scheme than those put in place
at other UK airports and although it is far from perfect I was glad to
be able to negotiate it.
I agree with the decision of the council. I believe the limited
expansion of the airport will be a key element in the regeneration of
Romney Marsh and the wider Shepway community. I hope that over time the
benefits will become so clear that even the doubters will be won over.