Despite not appearing on the official agenda, the issue of Bristol Airport expansion took centre stage at the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) joint meeting on Friday.
One hundred and fifty-four statements were submitted, and a further 24 questions prior to the meeting. A handful of statements were invited to be read out to the assembled WECA leaders.
Of these, the inconsistency of airport expansion in the context of a climate emergency was a persistent theme, with Green councillor and Bristol Mayoral candidate Jerome Thomas stating that Bristol Airport expansion is “simply incompatible with our regional climate commitments”.
Bristol Airport’s original planning application to expand from 10 to 12 million passengers per year was refused by North Somerset Council in February last year. The airport is now appealing that decision and a public consultation is running until February 22nd, with an inquiry following in July.
WECA’s current position is supportive of the airport’s plans, this not having changed since the original planning request. However, two out of three constituent members of WECA (Bristol and Bath and North East Somerset councils) are now formally opposed to the airport expansion plans. As several statements pointed out, this makes WECA’s position unrepresentative and, arguably, undemocratic.
During the course of Friday’s meeting, WECA leaders declared that they would hold joint discussions to determine the Authority’s official position regarding the expansion. This will no doubt be welcomed by the many groups and individuals across the south west who are opposed to the airport’s plans.
In a written response to public questions submitted before Friday’s meeting, WECA stated that it “recognise[s] the critical need to address the impact of climate change and formally declared a Climate Emergency in July last year”. However, in the same response it argues that aviation policy is a concern of central government, and that its work to reduce carbon emissions from Bristol Airport is limited to “surface transport access to the Airport”.
As anti-airport campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) have pointed out, surface emissions make up only 7% of the airport’s total carbon emissions, with the planes themselves contributing the remaining 93%.
BAAN is a local coalition of groups opposed to Bristol Airport’s expansion plans. It was BAAN who, in February last year, led protests across the south west that helped turn the tide against the airport and resulted in North Somerset Council’s decision to refuse planning permission. Many of Friday’s statements were read by members or supporters of the group.
Opposition from WECA would be a major blow to Bristol Airport, and would set an example for all local authorities and public bodies that climate can and should be prioritized over short term gains from airport expansion and other climate-harming infrastructure projects.
Last February, North Somerset councillors made such a choice. Will WECA do the same now?
The full WECA meeting is available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQj7D24ToMg