A petition to try to halt the expansion of Shoreham Airport has been started online.

The airport's managers and joint owners, Brighton and Hove City Council and Worthing Borough Council, want to expand the historic site to allow more domestic and international commercial flights to operate.

But the idea has met strong opposition, not least from environmentalists who say the plans will ruin surrounding wildlife habitats and cause greater global warming.

The online petition, which has already been signed by Green Party Brighton and Hove councillors Richard Mallender and Simon Williams, wants to achieve the "complete abandonment" of the expansion bid.

Susan Board, from Shoreham, who started the petition, said: "We oppose the plans to develop Shoreham airport and any proposals to increase air travel from there.

"It is an unsustainable idea in terms of both the local and the global environment and in terms of economics."

Mrs Board, who stood in last year's West Sussex County Council elections as a Green Party candidate, said: "We have had some support from local people and from some councillors ... and we hope to get more."

The expansion of Shoreham Airport has been put on ice until the end of March when the sale of the site to an unnamed company is likely to be sealed.

Once the sale is completed, which airport managers say is not a complete formality, plans will be released detailing exactly what will happen at the airport.

Manager John Haffenden said: "At the moment we can't rule anything in or out.

"It is like the sale of a house, there are lot of hoops to jump through before the sale goes through and there are a number of problems which could still occur.

"Assuming it has gone through by March 31, we will then have to wait and see what the developers want to do."

Mr Haffenden said he supports the expansion plans and says it is necessary for the airport to remain modern and relevant in the "fast-paced" aviation industry.

The new developers will not own the airport under the terms of the current contract being negotiated but will lease the site for 150 years with a brief to keep it as a fully functioning airport.

The expansion plan is being put forward as a potential solution to the airport's financial woes.

Shoreham Airport's own web site says it has outstanding loans worth £3.6 million.

It said: "The owning authorities are concerned that while the airport is currently making a small surplus, it has outstanding loans of about £3.6 million.

"It could therefore go into deficit if interest rates, operational or capital costs were to rise significantly.

"Any such deficit may then have to be borne by the council tax payers of Brighton and Hove and Worthing."

Two proposals have been tabled by the councils, both of which seek to increase the number of air traffic movements on the site to 100,000 per year.

The second application also proposes replacing the existing main runway with a 1,199m long strip.

So far, the online petition has 54 names but organisers say the movement to halt the expansion has far wider backing.

Susan Board said: "There is a lot of support out there, not just from people in the immediate area who don't want Shoreham Airport made bigger.

"We are just adding our own voices to the campaign in our own small way - but there is a much bigger movement of disapproval out there."

The online petition, which can be found online at www.petitionthem.com, says mud flats on the River Adur would be destroyed by the expansion.

It says climate change will be fuelled by more planes flying and that the economy in Sussex will be harmed.

Monday, January 9, 2006