The decision to expand Bristol Airport was condemned by politicians, campaigners and the public at a rally attended by around 200 people on College Green today (Saturday, February 12).
Following a 36-day public inquiry last year, last Wednesday three inspectors granted the airport’s appeal against a 2020 decision by North Somerset Council to refuse planning permission.
From 11am today, speakers including West of England mayor Dan Norris, Green Councillor Lily Fitzgibbon and local campaigners, lined up to denounce the inspectors’ decision, focusing on issues with democracy and fairness in the decision.
Addressing the crowd from a stage, Norris called for the inspectors’ decision to be overturned completely.
The metro mayor has long been an opponent of Bristol Airport expansion. Upon becoming mayor one of Norris’ first moves was to change WECA’s position on Bristol Airport expansion to objection.
WECA has committed to achieving net-zero by 2030. Norris said that airport expansion ‘will drive a coach and horses through that commitment’ and that whilst others were going out of their way to reduce emissions, the airport was seeking ‘special treatment’ to continue increasing emissions.
In her speech to the crowd, FitzGibbon, who previously organised Youth Strikes against airport expansion, said the decision, made against the wishes of 80% of local people who objected in public consultations, was a ‘kick in the teeth for local democracy.’
As well as vast public opposition, the expansion was objected to by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), Bristol City Council, and Bath and North East Somerset Council.
Fitzgibbon also said the decision ‘makes an absolute mockery’ of all other actions towards decarbonisation.
The airport’s expansion plans will allow them to increase passenger numbers from 10mn to 12 mn per year, resulting in an extra 23,500 flights and an estimated 1mn tonnes of CO2 per year as well as significant rises in noise levels for residents in the flight path, heavier congestions on nearby roads and higher levels of air pollution for miles around the airport.
The rally was called by Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), an offshoot of XR who have led opposition to the airport since 2019 through protest and by participating in last year’s planning inquiry.
BAAN’s Steve Clarke said: ‘Our Prime Minister told us only a few months ago at COP26 that we were at one minute to midnight, and yet they’re still allowing airport expansion despite the clear danger the climate and ecological emergency represents to us and our loved ones.’
‘I sat in the inquiry for three months…and I witnessed first hand how the airport’s experts were allowed to spout their half truths and their lies and how the inspectors nodded along and accepted what they said.’
He went on to say that the inspector’s final decision, published in a 118-page document, ‘reads like it was written by the airport. It’s absolutely crazy.’
BAAN is currently exploring the possibility of a judicial review, which could see the decision overturned in the High Court.
However, the sheer depth of public opposition to the airport expansion and the inspectors’ decision suggests that mass protest of some form will likely occur as well.
In the crowd today were Sally, Heidi and Steve who live near the airport and came to the rally to express their frustration at the decision.
Heidi said that protesting is not something she ordinarily does but she feels so angered by the decision and how it rides over the wishes of so many local people.
She went on to say that she would consider joining future protests if that’s what it takes to stop the expansion: ‘for once in my life I’m saying “count me in”.’
Steve said that whilst he didn’t want to be arrested he too could see the need for more disruptive protests, adding: ‘We continue to fight. What else is there to do?’
Organisers were perhaps disappointed with the lower than expected turnout for the rally. However, it is clear that many people are very upset and angry about the airport expansion decision and they are backed by the vast majority of politicians from all parties.
Today’s demo did not make clear what the next steps will be, but it is clear that opposition to the airport expansion is powerful and will only continue to grow.
Did you go this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org.