AN ACTION group fighting the extension of Southend Airport claims the sale of the airport’s lease will lead to in increase in cargo flights.

The announcement the Stobart transport group had bought the lease for £21million has sparked fears aircraft using Southend may soon be bigger, noisier and more numerous.

Stop Airport Extension Now campaign chairman Kiti Theobald said: “As a freight haulage company, Stobart will clearly want to run more cargo flights to and from Southend.

“It will mean bigger, noisier planes at night, as well as more lorries on our already-congested roads.

“We haven’t been consulted on the new owner’s plans and the devastating impact they will have on the lives of thousands of residents.”

Chief executive of the Stobart Group Andrew Tinkler has predicted the development of the airport for passengers and freight will be good for the area.

Stobart wants to see more passenger flights and the airport’s growth as a centre for “niche air freight”, involving urgent and high-value goods.

Southend and Rochford councils are now seeking public views on the airport expansion, a formal process which will start before Christmas.

John Lamb, deputy leader of Southend Council, said: “The six-week consultation period will let people have their say.

“We will listen to their concerns, work through them and manage them. People do have concerns about night flights and freight and we will listen.”

Keith Hudson, Rochford councillor responsible for planning and transport, said: “On the cargo side of things, as far as we are aware, it will be purely for high-value goods.

“Air freight is an expensive option and its unlikely to be a significant part of the business. The airport will remain as a maintenance facility and will grow for passengers.

“I don’t anticipate seeing queues of Eddie Stobart trucks at the airport. It’s not viable when they’d have to drive miles to get to any sensible road system.”

Alastair Welch, managing director at the airport, said: “The airport already operates a niche cargo operation for small high value goods from Europe.

“We did not and never will have the capacity for large cargo or long-haul cargo.

“We have a balanced airport operation today, with flying clubs, business jets, niche cargo, air maintenance and passenger flights.”