Current Affairs Municipalities against plan for new international airport
Villagers in two municipalities north of Prague have voted overwhelmingly against a plan aiming to turn a local airstrip into a new international airport. Under the plan, Letiště Vodochody would be transformed into a second airport serving the Czech capital, with around 1.5 million travellers or more processed each year. But many locals are worried that the new site will have a negative impact: traffic, noise pollution, property devaluation.
The transformation of Letiště Vodochody into a second international airport serving Prague has not yet gotten the go-ahead from the Environment Ministry but if some local municipalities have their way, it never will. Two of those, the villages of Chvatěruby and Zlončice held referenda on the question on Friday and the results were almost unanimously against. A little earlier, I spoke the mayor of Zlončice, Jiří Loučka:
“The results are legally binding: 64 percent of potential voters cast their ballot, which means 211 people in all. One vote was spoilt, two were in favour, and 208 gave us a mandate to take legal steps in the future to try and block the project.”
Fourteen out of 25 local municipalities, including Zlončice, are part of an initiative called Stop Vodochody Airport, fearing that the negative impact of the new facility will be manifold. As such says Mayor Loučka, there is little room for negotiation. Neither with representatives at Vodochody nor developers Penta Investments:
“The people at Penta have said that they want to negotiate but in our opinion they should have done that back in 2006, when we first made clear that there would be a clash over this project. As far as the new airport is concerned, it will increase traffic, increase noise pollution and even present a threat because of the chemical plants in the area. From our point of view, it was okay when Vodochody Airport saw 2,000 flights a year, but not 35,000.”
But not all are convinced a negative approach will best serve all municipalities, particularly the eleven that have not joined the initiative. A little earlier I spoke to Martin Danko, the spokesman for Penta Investments:
“I think that it is quite obvious that people will be worried when it comes to such a large infrastructure project and we are not surprised by the results of the referendum. But the fact is that the percentage of the people who took part equals the number of those who are opposed to the project. The more than 40 percent who did not vote may have a different view. That is one reason why we are working with the Factum Invenio polling agency to find out if people are well-informed about the project and to learn about their worries.”
And says the company spokesman, some changes have been made to address local concerns:
“We have already announced that we will try to reduce the negative impact of the project. We have cancelled night-time operations to reduce noise and we would also like to help find a solution to resolve traffic in the region. Plus, we have significantly changed departure and arrival trajectories of the planes, to lessen the impact on local villages.”
Ultimately, whether the new airport goes ahead will depend on the Environment Ministry’s assessment of a related study. That – more than local opposition, some sources have suggested - will ultimately tip the scales in favour of the project or against.