LEIGH will bear the brunt of noise and pollution from the proposed expansion of Southend Airport, a new campaign group has claimed.

More than 200 people attended a meeting organised by the local branch of Friends of the Earth to draw up battle lines against the expansion, and to form a new committee to fight it.

The meeting heard the expansion of the runway across Eastwoodbury Lane would mean larger aircraft beginning their descent sooner to the longer runway, coming in lower over areas like Leigh, which are on the flight path.

The larger airport, which could mean the demolition of some houses in the area, is expected to cater for two million passengers a year, which equates to 40 flights a day.

It was claimed by the time aircraft reach the area of Eastwoodbury Lane, near the Borough Combination Ground and Nestuda Way, they will be very close to the ground.

But while there are restrictions on night passenger flights, there are none on night freight flights.

John Stewart, from Airport Watch, who was invited to the meeting to advise the campaigners on the best way to fight the proposals, said the aircraft “will be landing lower and there will be a lot more noise for Leigh”.

He added: “The question to ask is whether there is a market for passenger flights from Southend.

“My fear is it may not be passengers they are going for. It may be freight and, if so, it might be at night and with noisy old planes.”

Mr Stewart urged the campaigners to question whether the larger airport would bring jobs and business opportunities to the area.

He said while the airport would employ more staff, it was questionable whether it would bring any significant prosperity to the town.

Many at the meeting, at the Eastwood Community Centre, felt the expansion would bring added pressure to already gridlocked roads.

Some felt the consultation process organised by Southend Council and Rochford District Council had been poorly advertised and shrouded in secrecy.

Kiti Theobold, who was part of the now disbanded action group which campaigned to save St Laurence Church when it was threatened by previous airport expansion plans, is likely to become chairman of the new committee.

She said: “I am angry about the secrecy from the airport and from Rochford and Southend councils.

“I am angry my friend’s house is due for demolition. I don’t want children suffering from asthma and I don’t want my grandchild to g