The destructive scheme to expand Bristol Airport has been given the green light by inspectors. Following a public inquiry from July to October last year, inspectors yesterday (February 2) returned a long-awaited verdict in favour of the airport’s appeal against an earlier decision by North Somerset Council to deny planning permission.
The expansion raises Bristol Airport’s passenger cap from 10 million per year to 12 million, allows thousands of extra flights, including night flights, and permits expansion of the terminal building and a new multi-storey car park on Green Belt land. .
Since its announcement in 2018, the expansion plan has been resisted by local residents and campaign groups, culminating in the decision by North Somerset Council to refuse planning permission in January 2020.
Large majorities of people have objected across two public consultations on the issue and Bristol CIty Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) all objected to the plans.
After the result was announced, campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network tweeted: ‘Naturally we are all outraged by this news & will be posting an official response once the full decision has been analysed. Love to all who opposed this unwanted appeal. We will not give up!’
Meanwhile, WECA mayor Dan Norris tweeted: ‘Deeply dismayed by decision on Bristol Airport. Govt’s lack of policy on UK airport expansion resulted in inspectors ignoring voices of local people & resolution of the West of England Combined Authority’
The public inquiry, which lasted 36 days last year, saw solicitors for the airport argue their case before three government-appointed planning inspectors. Against them were an array of opponents including North Somerset Council, the local Parish Council association, and grassroots campaign groups like Bristol Airport Action Network.
Key issues of contention were climate change, noise, air pollution, transport and highways, Green Belt development and socio-economic benefits.
On climate change. Bristol Airport claims that it will be carbon neutral by 2025. However, this target does not include emissions from planes, which account for the vast majority of the airport’s emissions.
Government policy on airport expansion is currently largely determined by the Making Best Use strategy, whereby existing airports should be encouraged to develop to absorb increasing demand for flights, rather than building new airports or new runways.
Campaigners at the inquiry had hoped the inspectors would balance this against policy recommendations by the Climate Change Committee, the government’s statutory advisors on climate change, that the UK should pursue no net airport expansion and should actively seek to reduce demand for flights.
Another key battle-ground was the predicted socio-economic benefits of the expansion. During the inquiry, Bristol Airport, which is owned by the Canada-based Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund, repeatedly claimed that expansion was necessary to meet increasing demand for flights and to support regional economic growth.
Alex Chapman, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation and an expert witness called at the inquiry said of Bristol Airport’s analysis that it was ‘so riddled with flaws, omissions, and contradictions, that it should be disregarded.’ He pointed out that expansion could result in as few as 150 additional jobs across the region whilst outbound tourism would result in a net loss of money overseas.
Ultimately, however, the inspectors sided with the airport, saying in their final decision report: ‘In light of national, regional and local policy there is a planning policy imperative to support airport growth in economic terms.’
This is a common refrain in the inspectors’ decision. National policy is geared towards airport expansion and development, citing economic benefits and job creation, as well as more recently Covid recovery.
The decision of the planning inspectors has dealt a blow to campaigners, politicians and residents across the South West. The next stage of resistance to the airport is already underway, however, with a rally called by Bristol Airport Action Network for 12pm on Saturday, February 12 at College Green.
The decision of the planning inspectors has dealt a blow to campaigners, politicians and residents across the South West.
‘A Kick in the Teeth for Local Democracy’: Bristol Airport Expansion Slammed at Rally
The decision to expand Bristol Airport was condemned by politicians, campaigners and the public at a rally attended by around 200 people on College Green today (Saturday, February 12).
Following a 36-day public inquiry last year, last Wednesday three inspectors granted the airport’s appeal against a 2020 decision by North Somerset Council to refuse planning permission.
From 11am today, speakers including West of England mayor Dan Norris, Green Councillor Lily Fitzgibbon and local campaigners, lined up to denounce the inspectors’ decision, focusing on issues with democracy and fairness in the decision.
Addressing the crowd from a stage, Norris called for the inspectors’ decision to be overturned completely.
The metro mayor has long been an opponent of Bristol Airport expansion. Upon becoming mayor one of Norris’ first moves was to change WECA’s position on Bristol Airport expansion to objection.
WECA has committed to achieving net-zero by 2030. Norris said that airport expansion ‘will drive a coach and horses through that commitment’ and that whilst others were going out of their way to reduce emissions, the airport was seeking ‘special treatment’ to continue increasing emissions.
In her speech to the crowd, FitzGibbon, who previously organised Youth Strikes against airport expansion, said the decision, made against the wishes of 80% of local people who objected in public consultations, was a ‘kick in the teeth for local democracy.’
As well as vast public opposition, the expansion was objected to by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), Bristol City Council, and Bath and North East Somerset Council.
Fitzgibbon also said the decision ‘makes an absolute mockery’ of all other actions towards decarbonisation.
The airport’s expansion plans will allow them to increase passenger numbers from 10mn to 12 mn per year, resulting in an extra 23,500 flights and an estimated 1mn tonnes of CO2 per year as well as significant rises in noise levels for residents in the flight path, heavier congestions on nearby roads and higher levels of air pollution for miles around the airport.
The rally was called by Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), an offshoot of XR who have led opposition to the airport since 2019 through protest and by participating in last year’s planning inquiry.
BAAN’s Steve Clarke said: ‘Our Prime Minister told us only a few months ago at COP26 that we were at one minute to midnight, and yet they’re still allowing airport expansion despite the clear danger the climate and ecological emergency represents to us and our loved ones.’
‘I sat in the inquiry for three months…and I witnessed first hand how the airport’s experts were allowed to spout their half truths and their lies and how the inspectors nodded along and accepted what they said.’
He went on to say that the inspector’s final decision, published in a 118-page document, ‘reads like it was written by the airport. It’s absolutely crazy.’
Today’s demo did not make clear what the next steps will be, but it is clear that opposition to the airport expansion is powerful and will only continue to grow.