The airport city is a large development project at Manchester Airport, and is at the centre of the airport’s aggressive 20 year expansion strategy. The first stage of the project is a business development on open land north of the airport, but the long term plan is for large swathes of greenbelt land south of Wythenshaw to be developed. This area has been designated an enterprise zone by the government, which means that normal planning procedure can be circumvented, or in some cases planning permission will be automatically granted.
The thinking behind the plans is that Manchester Airport will become an international business location, increasing traffic through the airport and justifying further expansion at the airport, which will in turn increase demand for further development. The plans involve businesses parks, hotels, leisure facilities and shopping malls.
All this is justified on the assumption that jobs will be created, although it is admitted that even by the council’s figures, that half will actually be the result of businesses relocating from other parts of the region, and let’s not forget that Manchester is already full of empty office space, thanks to the council’s wrong-headed attempts at regeneration. Even if new businesses do come to the enterprise zone, it’s clear that , the self-contained nature of the development means that the wider benefits to the region will be minimal – international business travellers flying in and then flying out again. Any extra jobs created for local people will be in the service industry, waiting on this mystical business elite. The headline figure of 7,000 is clearly based on little more more than substance – the actual figure for the first stage, the only part for which designs have actually been put forward, is 1,400 – and this should be treated with caution. The second runway was supposed to bring 50,000 jobs to the area, whereas only 6,000 ever came about.
The whole project is covered in a thin veneer of greenwash. The airport is planning to make everything except the planes carbon neutral by 2015, and renewable energy and water conservation are used as fig leaves to disguise the tearing up of green space which the enterprise zone will create. The real context is the completely unsustainable plan to double passenger capacity at the airport, in line with the 2003 Aviation White Paper (which was declared ‘untenable in common sense and law’ in a 2010 court ruling), and if possible to create even further growth in airport at Manchester with massive consequences for the climate.