Will Cheap Flights Destroy Siena's Quiet Charm?

Cheap flights to Europe and beyond are a British addiction. For the price of a sandwich (plus taxes which are often more than the cost of the flight), one can fly just about anywhere for a long weekend ("city break" as they are called). In this crazy world, travellers to Florence land in Pisa, Stockholm is Skavsta (65 miles away) and Vienna is Bratislava. Many previously unknown small towns welcome the new airports and commerce which the flights bring. However the residents of one smallish beautiful city--Siena, Italy, are up in arms about proposals to expand the airport to allow large airplanes and a possible 4 million tourists a year by 2020. The area around Siena is also known as "Chiantishire" because so many wealthy Brit's have second homes there (Tony Blair visited often). Now tourists come by train or car through the magnificent Tuscan countryside with its vineyards, art, culture and great food. The proposed expansion of the pokey little airport, built for Mussolini, will mean that 15 airlines will fly tourists into town. The opposition to the project is an interesting mix of locals and rich English.

The protesters say they want to stop the environmental damage that the £50m expansion would cause to the countryside. But there are also fears that once built it would expose them to thousands of backpackers and less appealing aspects of British culture, like people on drunken stag and hen parties arriving on budget airlines. Sir John Mortimer, the creator of Rumpole, said: "You can't say, 'Don't come to Siena.' You can't say, 'You are vulgar people - we don't want you all here.' I am sure they will filter into the landscape and we won't notice."

Is it a case of NIMBY (not in my back yard)? The locals are also opposed. There are already more tourists than the town can handle. Many do not welcome the idea of more development and pollution and noise, in one of the few remaining unspoilt parts of Italy. Some say that the existing super highway which is far from the city could be upgraded and extended.

Others insist that the remote connection to the highway is one of the factors that has kept the city in its exquisite untouched state. They say that the answer is the railway: completing a second track which would allow a faster train from Siena to Florence would let tourism increase in an environmental and careful way.

It's a chance for the area to make some quick money, and unfortunately the runway has already been slightly extended so that larger planes can land. This David and Goliath fight will be one to watch. :: The Times

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Consumerism

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