On 7th November 2017 the Polish government approved a plan to build a new mega-airport, called Poland Central Airport or New Central Polish Airport. The location was confirmed to be near Stanisławów village, in Baranów, a rural gmina (administrative district) between Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, and Łódź, Poland’s third largest city and a former textile manufacturing hub. A new airport on a site between Warsaw and Łódź, had been the subject of debate since 2006. A 30 square kilometre site is earmarked for the airport, within a larger project area of 66.2 square kilometres. The area allocated for the new airport is characterized by villages and small parcels of cultivated land. Stanisławów, Baranów and several other villages stand to be affected. Baranów is a small village with its church spire jutting above apple and pear groves.
The airport, with an adjoining ‘airport city’, is a key component of plans for a larger megaproject, a multi-modal transportation hub, initially called Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK) or Central Communication Port, integrating the new mega-airport with existing and new road and rail infrastructure. In April 2018 the name of the project was confirmed as Central Transport Hub. Affected local communities raised concerns over the future of their land ownership. New legislation to enable implementation of the Central Transport Hub results in de facto freezing of their real estate, establishing a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Central Transport Hub LLC with pre-emptive powers over land development decisions and superseding local spatial development plans. In effect, provision has been made for land required for the project to be expropriated automatically, with provisions made for compensation. When the legislation pertaining to the Central Transport Hub was approved, in May 2018, Baranów residents said they had not been officially informed about their future including the terms upon which the government would buy their land. A referendum to determine whether they support the airport plans was announced.
A large protest against the airport project took place on 23rd May 2018. Residents, accompanied by a few tractors, gathered in front of Baranów fire station where a meeting was held with Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Mikolaj Wild and a representative of the consulting firm Arup. A map produced by Arup of the entire area that would be taken up by the Central Transport Hub, including the new airport, airport city, road junctions and railway lines, showed an area of over 66 square kilometres in total. Councillors voted to hold a referendum on the airport, asking residents two questions: whether they agree to the location of the project in Baranów and whether they agree to the settlement terms proposed by the government.
In June 2018 the Central Europe Legal News and Views Blog stated that enactment of the new legislation regarding the Central Transport Hub, signed into law by President Andrzej Duda, had caused an ‘outcry’ in the community of Baranów and anticipated ‘intense’ local resistance. The referendum on the issue, consultative rather than binding, was scheduled for 17th June. The result of the referendum was a resounding vote against the project: 88.2 per cent of the votes were against the Central Transport Hub and a mere 17.2 per cent voted in favour of it. Residents also rejected the government’s proposed settlement terms for acquisition of their land.
Opposition to the project due to concerns over serious socio-economic disruption is accompanied by widespread doubts over its economic viability. The airport along with the transportation hub would be the biggest infrastructure project in the history of Poland. The European Union (EU) is not expected to contribute funds and the European Commission monitors airport projects to ensure compliance with state aid rules. The Polish government has claimed Chinese, South Korean and Singaporean interest in investing in the project but as as of October 2018 there was no report of commitment from a foreign investor. With the first phase of the project projected to cost about USD8 billion, more than 10 per cent of Poland’s annual budget for 2018, skeptics were of the opinion that the money allocated for the new airport would be better spent on highways, railways, and upgrading the existing Warsaw Chopin Airport. Marcin Swiecicki, former Mayor of Warsaw and member of Parliament for Civic Platform, Poland’s main opposition party, said: “I see more megalomaniacal self-aggrandisement than any realistic analysis in this project”.