Campaigners make ‘pilgrimage’ against Bristol Airport expansion

The airport is planning to extend its terminal and build a new multi-storey car park
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Local people opposed to airport expansion have carried out a protest pilgrimage to Bristol Airport on one of the hottest days of the year.

Activists said that about 40 people from Christian Climate Action walked from Bristol Cathedral and across the North Somerset countryside to Bristol Airport, receiving support from local churches along the way.

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The airport is planning to extend its terminal and build a new multi-storey car park to expand its capacity from 10m to 12m passengers per year.

University of Bristol research assistant Ben Buse was among the pilgrims. He said: “As we experienced this summer in Europe and around the world, the terrible impacts of current level of warming with the heatwaves, wildfires, floods and hurricanes, things are only going to get worse until we stop emissions.

“Scientists are clear there can be no airport expansion. As we awaken to the reality and our deep care for those we love and the natural world, all that is sacred, we must demand change and act for and be the change.”

The pilgrims were blessed by Bristol Cathedral Canon Minister and Extinction Rebellion member Reverend Jonnie Parkin before they set off, and received shelter and refreshments at All Saints Church in Long Ashton and St Katherine’s Church in Felton on their pilgrimage.

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Mr Buse said that most pilgrims were prevented from entering the airport at the end of the pilgrimage by staff but that he, together with teacher Patrick Laban and retired speech and language therapist Morwenna White-Thomson, were able to get into the terminal with their signs and read a lament.

The pilgrimage was part of a day of action by Christian Climate Action, with other pilgrimages happening across the UK over local environmental issues.

Ms White-Thomson said: “We walked together in solidarity with each other and the Earth, in order to highlight the danger of pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere via airport expansion.”

A spokesperson for Bristol Airport said: “We are aware of a peaceful protest on the A38 by the Airport for a short period of time on Saturday 9 September.

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“During the planning process we consulted extensively with local communities and a wide range of stakeholders, and their feedback guided our phased approach to growth, while ensuring we continue to serve passengers across the South West of the UK and playing a vital role in our region’s economy.

“We have listened to local views and we take the challenge of climate change seriously and have made significant changes to our business, including investment into solar power and other renewable energy projects. We achieved carbon neutrality status in 2021 and commit to net zero airport operations by 2030.”

The airport’s spokesperson added: “Developing Bristol Airport in a responsible way will enable more people from the South West to ‘fly local’, reducing the number of road journeys to and from London airports – numbering 8 million a year pre-pandemic. Our net zero commitment for the future highlights our focus on reducing the impact of our operations on the environment and local communities.”

But Ms White-Thomson said: “It is madness to be even considering airport expansion when the evidence of climate breakdown is all around us. It is also at complete odds with recommendations from all climate scientists’

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The Climate Change Committee, the independent government body which advises on tackling climate change, said in their report to parliament in June: “There has been continued airport expansion in recent years, counter to our assessment that there should be no net airport expansion across the UK.

“No airport expansions should proceed until a UK-wide capacity management framework is in place to assess annually and, if required, control sector CO2 emissions and non-CO2 effects.”

Bristol Airport’s expansion plans were originally turned down by North Somerset Council in 2020, after 8,900 people objected to the scheme. But the decision was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate in 2022.

An attempt by campaigners Bristol Airport Action Network to overturn this at the High Court failed in January 2023, with the judge upholding the inspectorate’s ruling that the expansion could go ahead.

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