Halting our expansion will damage regional economy, airport bosses claim after council grounds plans

February 11, 2020

Bristol Airport has accused councillors who rejected its controversial expansion plans of “putting the brakes” on the region’s economic growth by stifling international trade and tourism.

It also said the move, which it is expected to appeal against, would deter airlines from using the airport – forcing passengers to travel to Heathrow or Gatwick for international flights and leading to further environmental damage. 

Airport bosses had wanted planning permission to increase the airport’s capacity to handle 12m passengers a year – up from the 10m restriction in its current planning permission, which the airport is expected to reach next year.

The expansion was backed by a range of business groups, including the CBI and FSB, Business West and the West of England LEP (local enterprise partnership) as well as Bristol City Council, Metro Mayor Tim Bowles and the Unite union.

But councillors on North Somerset District Council’s planning committee last night went against their officers’ recommendation and rejected the scheme.

The airport’s owners, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, claimed the plans would have generated an extra £1.4bn for the regional economy over 10 years and create 800 jobs on-site and a further 5,000 around the region.

However, they sparked an almost unprecedented level of opposition, bringing together local residents, environmentalists and climate crisis pressure group Extinction Rebellion. Some 8,000 letters of objection were received by the council.

Three days of protests were held in Bristol over the weekend and ahead of last night’s meeting at the council’s Weston-super-Mare offices. 

The redevelopment would have involved extending the passenger terminus and aircraft taxiways as well as adding 3,000-plus extra car parking spaces at the airport and upgrading nearby roads.

Following the 18-7 vote by the committee, Bristol Airport said in a statement: “We are disappointed by the decision of North Somerset Council’s Planning & Regulatory Committee to recommend refusal of our planning application to increase Bristol Airport’s capacity from 10m to 12m passengers a year, contrary to the recommendation of the council’s own planning officers.

“This decision risks putting the brakes on the region’s economy by turning away airlines who want to serve the South West market, shutting the door to international trade and tourism at a time when the UK needs to show it is open for business.

“By preventing Bristol Airport from meeting demand for air travel from within the region it serves, the council will simply exacerbate the situation which already sees millions of passengers a year form our region drive to London airports in order to fly, creating carbon emissions and congestion in the process.”

Last month the airport, the fifth busiest in the UK outside London, became the first in Europe to offset all road journeys made by its passengers. The carbon offsetting scheme, which covers trips to and from the airport, forms part of its ‘carbon roadmap’ published last year.

Offsets will be bought retrospectively based on an annual passenger survey showing the different modes of travel used by passengers.

The airport also last year fast-tracked its target of becoming carbon neutral target from 2030 to 2025 and vowed to keep emissions from all its flights at 2020 levels.

Following last night’s four-and-a-half -hour committee meeting, North Somerset Council leader Don Davies said: “What the committee has considered is that the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to airport expansion.

“I know some people will be upset by this decision and I am sure that we can reconsider it in future when the airline industry has decarbonised and the public transport links to the airport are far stronger.”

Objectors at last night’s meeting claimed the expansion would increase suffering for people with asthma as well as harming birdlife and bat colonies. They heralded the decision as ‘historic’ and said it would encourage opponents of other airport expansions.

One, environmental consultant Adrian Gibbs told the meeting the enlarged airport would need to plant millions of trees every year to offset the carbon dioxide it would generate and added: “Our house is on fire. To expand an airport is to throw fuel on it.”

The expansion was objected to by Bath & North East Somerset Council, whose cabinet member for the climate emergency, Sarah Warren, told the meeting the plan was incompatible with the global environmental crisis.

The airport employs around 4,000 on its 196-hectare site and estimates it supports just under 24,000 jobs in the wider economy of the South West and South Wales. As well as the plans rejected last night, it has voiced a longer-term ambition to handle up to 20m passengers a year by the mid-2040s.



Comments are closed.


Reach tens of thousands of senior business people across Swindon & Wiltshire for just £70 a month. Email info@swindon-business.net for more information.