Airport-linked special economic zones and aerotropolis projects

The aerotropolis was on the agenda at the Tax Justice annual conference held at City, University of London on 5th-6th July – Global Tax Justice at a Crossroads: Southern Leadership and the Challenge of Trump and Brexit organised by the Association for Accountancy & Business Affairs (AABA), City, University of London (CityPERC), and the Tax Justice Network (TJN). GAAM co-founder Rose Bridger presented a paper entitled ‘Airport-linked special economic zones, aerotropolis projects and the race to the bottom’. Aerotropolis planning and development worldwide is closely intertwined with a new generation of special economic zones (SEZs) offering tax breaks and other incentives.

The slides accompanying the conference paper included five GAAM maps showing examples of airport-linked SEZs.

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Airport Expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects

Indonesia cover mA new report Airport Expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects has been published by the Third World Network (TWN) in partnership with GAAM. Airport expansion in Indonesia is closely intertwined with a government drive for massive tourism growth, and the 64-page report looks at 58 airports, operational, under construction and still in the planning stage.

New airports, and expansion of existing airports, frequently entails displacement of communities and loss of farmland and the report documents land rights struggles relating to 25 airport projects. Planners often hone in on forested land as an alternative to the use of agricultural land for airport projects.

Aviation expansion in Indonesia is integrated with other megparojects such as multi-lane highways and sea ports, and linked to new Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These areas are designated for industrial and tourism development, provided with surface transportation networks and other supportive infrastructure and lavished with tax breaks and other incentives. Several SEZs have been bestowed with long stretches of coastline boasting white sand beaches, natural assets that are a cornerstone of tourism.

There are many plans for aerotropolis-style development, including around two airports currently under construction in Java – Kulon Progo and Kertajati – in the face of vigorous and long standing resistance from communities being forced to leave their homes and productive agricultural land. A number of aerotropolis plans are integrated with development of tourist resorts that aspire to become aviation dependent destinations in their own right. The report accompanies GAAM’s digital map which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images.

Since the report went to print plans for a new airport in the Seribu Islands (Thousand Islands) off the coast of Jakarta have been announced. This appears to be a scheme for tourism oriented aerotropolis style development as the Jakarta administration has stated that the winner of the tender will be permitted to build resorts near the airport, and will be provided with incentives.

For paper copies of the report, please contact:  Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email: twn@twnetwork.org.

Leeds Bradford Airport plans ‘airport village’ on greenbelt land

In northern England, Leeds City Council plans to release 36.2 hectares of land to enable expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport, supporting its goal of doubling passenger numbers to 7.1 million by 2030. The land is currently designated as ‘greenbelt’ – green space surrounding urban areas that is protected from development, in order to ensure than urban dwellers have access to countryside and prevent urban sprawl. Adjacent to the airport terminal, the land in question is currently used for farming. In addition to an increase in terminal capacity to accommodate more passengers the land would be used for commercial development to support the growth of Leeds Bradford Airport – an ‘airport village’ consisting of a hotel, restaurants and shops, an air freight park and an ‘air innovation park’.

On 15th July opponents to Leeds Bradford Airport’s plans to concrete over greenbelt land gathered to protest outside the Leeds City Council Executive Board meeting which discussed the plans for a few minutes. As documented in the minutes of the meeting, attendees emphasized the Council’s continued support for expansion of the airport. The only note of caution was an assurance that consultation with ‘all relevant parties’ would be widespread and thorough.

Leeds Bradford Airport protest
Protest against allocation of greenbelt land for commercial development to support growth of Leeds Bradford Airport, 15th July 2015

The report proposing allocating the 36.2 hectares of greenbelt land to Leeds Bradford Airport had already been discussed at the Development Plan Panel on 26th June 2015. Its a lengthy document – 176 pages long. On page 5, the issue that land at the airport is already allocated for ’employment’ so therefore available for development, with most of it remaining under occupied, is raised. Airport supporters’ response to this point is that the scale of land allocation proposed will make it an attractive location, and it will be supported by promotion and marketing internationally to prospective tenants. Bizarrely, the supposed solution to vacant business space is supposedly to provide even larger space, and the established business space should have received more promotion and marketing support to reduce the risk of it languishing unoccupied.

Leeds_BradfordAirport map s
This map shows the greenbelt land, currently used for farming, that Leeds City Council wishes to release for commercial development to support expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport – the area within the red line

It is not as if there is a shortage of business space in Leeds or Bradford. Both cities have plenty of vacant business premises, already constructed or on land with planning permission for industrial/warehouse development. An industry website lists 157 industrial properties available to rent in Leeds. The largest is a new development, Leeds Distribution Park, adjacent to Junction 47 of the M1 Motorway, with planning permission for industrial/warehouse development up to a maximum single footprint of 750,000 sq ft (17 acres). The website lists 40 industrial properties available to rent in Bradford. The largest is Bronte Business Park, boasting 16 acres of development land allocated for employment use.

Leeds Bradford Airport, and its supporters at Leeds City Council, aims to support commercial development on greenbelt land with more than just promotion and marketing. They are angling for ‘Mini-Enterprise Zone’ status, as stated on the the document submitted to the Development Plan Panel, see page 13. This is already in place elsewhere in England, including at Manchester and Newquay airports. Designation as an ‘Enterprise Zone’ is a subsidy, as tenants are gifted a Business Rate tax exemption of up to £275,000 per eligible business. This tax break is unfair and unwarranted preferential treatment for tenants that are fortunate to be in the Enterprise Zone. In the case of airports, space in the Enterprise Zone is granted to businesses that are aviation dependent, thus maximizing use of the airport’s passenger and/or cargo facilities and facilitating airport growth.

Businesses which do locate in the Enterprise Zone may not even create jobs, as firms will be incentivized to relocate from other premises in order to take advantage of the tax break. The argument that the airport-linked commercial development  will boost the economy for neighbouring communities and the wider region, which the proponents of the project are most insistent about, is flawed. The shops, restaurant and hotel that are planned would result in air passengers spending more of their time, and money, on airport land, instead of stimulating economic activity in Leeds Bradford Airport’s host community.

Another aspect of the rationale for commercial development on green space is to strengthen the case for more ‘surface access’ to Leeds Bradford Airport. This means construction of another road link, a dual carriageway from the A65 in Rawdon to the A658. It would not come cheap and taxpayers would have to foot the bill. It is anticipated that public sector funding will be confirmed for the new link road. The route of this road plan is not revealed. Figure 13 in the report discussed by the Development Plan Panel entitled ‘Indicative Alignment of New LBIA Road Link’ is not actually included in the report, it is ‘TBC’, left blank. Already, Rawdon Greenbelt Action Group is campaigning against the link road; they are concerned that enormous swathes of greenbelt land will be damaged or lost altogether, along with the special landscape character of the area.

Leeds Bradford Airport’s ‘airport city’ plans are a smaller scale version of aerotropolis development that is already underway across the Pennine hills, at Manchester Airport. This is opposed by the Stop Expansion at Manchester Airport campaign group. There is also a Facebook page. Airport-linked business premises is being constructed on land formerly designated as ‘greenbelt’ and, under the guise of alleviating traffic congestion, construction of a link road, costing £290 million in public funds, has commenced. Calling the road a ‘relief road’ does not disguise the fact that it is designed to increase traffic to and from the airport. Most recently, hundreds of residents of High Lane village in Stockport, on the route of the new road, turned up to an exhibition to express their concerns over increased air pollution, noise and vibration from heavy vehicles.

There is strong opposition to aerotropolis development on green space, and associated road infrastructure, at both Leeds Bradford and Manchester airports. Linking up these campaigns will strengthen them.

Andal aerotropolis set for takeoff

A new airport built on a greenfield site in Andal, Bengal is due to start operations this month. It proclaims itself to be ‘India’s first airport-city project’. Partha Ghosh, Managing Director of the develop of the project, Bengal Aerotropolis Pvt Ltd (BAPL) is reported to be ‘bullish’ about the new airport’s prospects for attracting low cost airlines – and this will be helped by tax breaks offered by the West Bengal government. But even with this subsidy the airport does not expect to sufficient earnings from airline parking and landing fees. The article states that ‘the profitability of the project clearly hinges on the city-side development’ and the airport anticipates earning revenue from real estate, from residential, commercial and industrial development on land owned by the airport. Read the full article in the Hindu Businesses Line: Greenfield private airport set for takeoff

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