Bristol Airport wins appeal to expand to 12 million passengers a year

The planning inspectorate’s decision comes after North Somerset Council refused the airport’s plans two years ago

Bristol Airport’s plans to expand its capacity to 12 million passengers a year has been allowed on appeal in a decision branded “devastating” by opponents.

North Somerset Council leader Don Davies expressed his “extreme disappointment” and said the decision after a 36-day inquiry “flies in the face of local democracy”.

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He said the authority gave sound grounds for refusing permission in February 2020 and it is seeing if there are any grounds for challenging the Planning Inspectorate ruling.

The expansion allows the airport to increase its current capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers per year, while adding thousands more parking spaces. It is yet to hit the current cap and pre-pandemic in 2019 fewer than nine million passengers used the airport.

Reacting to the news following an adjournment in the council’s executive meeting, Councillor Davies said: “The refusal was based on firm planning grounds and the belief the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the impacts on the environment outweighed the narrower benefits of airport expansion, which sit almost entirely in the commercial interests of the owners, a foreign pension fund.”

Bristol Airport’s plans to expand its capacity to 12 million passengers a year has been allowed on appeal

The airport is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Councillor Davies said the council had mounted a robust defence of the council’s position and it was “extremely disappointing” that the inspectors overturned its decision and allowed the airport to grow “even further with all the associated noise, environmental and health impacts that entails”.

The expansion was also opposed by Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority.

“This simply flies in the face of local democracy and disregards the views of the local communities who fought equally hard to resist the expansion,” he said.

“It completely undermines our vision for a green North Somerset, our determination to tackle the climate emergency and the target we’ve set for the area to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“We face a climate emergency and to countenance yet more leisure flights that predominate from this airport is completely unacceptable from one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The airport’s important role in the region’s economy would have continued without expanding beyond its currently 10 million passengers a year limit.

“We’re studying the inspectors’ decision to see if there are any grounds to challenge and we’re working hard regardless to hold the airport to account to deliver their promises to reduce the carbon impact of the airport’s operations, especially around non-car travel to the airport and the greenwashing promises of the airline industry to decarbonise, which in reality will not happen in this decade.”

Councillor Ciaran Cronnelly voted to reject the application and tweeted that the decision “stings a lot”, adding: “The airport may chalk this up as a win, but for nearby residents this is a huge and impactful loss.”

Councillor Steve Bridger said he was “devastated”, adding: “We need to see change”.

Councillor Huw James said it was a “terrible day for our planet”, while Cllr Mike Bell branded it a “black day for action on our climate”.

Bristol Airport has been approached for comment but is yet to respond publicly to the news.

When it lodged the appeal it said: “The plans to expand capacity at the airport will offer passengers more routes and flights from the south west directly, create jobs, facilitate inward investment and inbound tourism, and support greener and more sustainable, regional economic growth.

“As the UK emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic it is essential that all regions of the country are given the opportunity to grow to their full potential and contribute to the national recovery effort.

“International trade and connectivity will become increasingly important as the UK completes its departure from the European Union – increasing aviation capacity is essential in delivering this goal.”

Bristol Airport chief executive Dave Lees said: “Bristol Airport welcomes the decision of the Planning Inspectorate.

“The decision is excellent news for our region’s economy, allowing us to create thousands of new jobs in the years ahead and provide more choice for our customers, supporting inbound tourism, and reducing the millions of road journeys made to London airports each year.

“We will now push ahead with our multi-million-pound plans for net zero operations by 2030 and look forward to working with stakeholders and the community to deliver sustainable growth.”