Slated as the most important climate decision facing the region, the public inquiry to determine the fate of Bristol Airport expansion begins on Tuesday, July 20, and activist groups are ready to make their voices heard.
XR Bristol will be in Weston-Super-Mare from Tuesday for three days of actions around Weston-Super-Mare town hall, where the inquiry is being held. Planned actions include a die-in, a sand sculpture of a plane being washed into the sea, and a performance from the Greenbusters.
The inquiry is the consequence of the airport’s appeal against North Somerset Council’s decision, in February 2020, to refuse permission for the original planning application, a decision made largely on climate grounds, and in response to overwhelming public opposition to the airport.
Expansion would see the airport enlarge the terminal building and build a new multi-storey car park on Greenbelt land, the passenger cap would rise from 10 million passengers per year (mppa) to 12 mppa, and 23,600 extra flights would pass through the airport every year.
Speaking for XR Bristol, Darcy Mitchell, a parent and ex-teacher from Easton, said: “The science now shows us there has never been a good time for expanding airports: the effects of climate change are so extreme, and so damaging for our planet, and our children.
“But for an airport expansion to be approved in the very year when the UK is hosting the COP26 climate summit – that would be a national and international disgrace.
Running for ten weeks, the inquiry will hear from Bristol Airport and North Somerset Council, as well as other interested parties on issues including the climate crisis, greenbelt land, road congestion, and air and noise pollution.
Represented at the inquiry are XR offshoot Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), who will present evidence on the climate impacts of the expansion, as well as countering many of the claims the airport has made regarding the sustainability of its operations.
BAAN were instrumental in the campaign to defeat the airport’s plans last year. That campaign also included joint actions with XR Bristol in Weston-Super-Mare.
Richard Baxter, a spokesperson for BAAN, said that he is confident in the group’s witnesses and evidence for the inquiry, which will focus on the climate impacts of the expansion plans.
Highlighting the importance of the inquiry for local people, Richard said:
‘The voice of the local people and the council – who have committed themselves to declaring a climate emergency – have basically been ignored by the airport.
‘It’s also evident that if you just look at … what’s actually going on in the world, we can’t afford to have a business like this that is committed to pumping out carbon emissions.
‘It’s just wrong on so many levels, locally and internationally.’
The decision by the airport to appeal has also been slammed by the Bristol Green party who argue that expansion will lead to an additional 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, as well as extra 10,000 car journeys per day, and an extended car park on greenbelt land.
In an article on the Bristol Green Party website, Green councillor Carla Denyer said:
“Airport expansion would be a complete betrayal of our climate emergency declaration and climate goals. We cannot let it happen.
“If you care about the future and the world you, your children and grandchildren will live in now is the time to stand up and take a stand.”
Bristol Airport claim that their expansion will be entirely carbon neutral and that they are moving towards fully carbon neutral operations. In this they are supported by Marvin Rees, who in a recent council debate dismissed claims that the airport is responsible for emissions from the planes.
Climate campaigners will be hoping that the inquiry takes stock of the wider context: not only the climate emergency but also the fact that 21 other airports in the UK are seeking to expand.
For Richard, the Bristol Airport decision holds the possibility of change beyond the borders of our region.
‘It’s got to the point where they [the inquiry] cannot ignore [the climate issues]. It would just be so wrong to dismiss it as a minor part of the application. They’ve got the opportunity to play a major role here and send a signal to the aviation industry.’
Supporters wishing to join the action in Weston-Super-Mare next week can find more information in this action document prepared by XR Bristol.
Members of the public can apply to speak at the inquiry and anyone wishing to do so can find more information here.
Feature image: Simon Holliday.