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Bristol Airport expansion decision in High Court this week

Six people stand outside Bristol Civil Justice Centre. They are holding a banner and raising one fist in the air.

The long-awaited High Court challenge to Bristol Airport expansion will be heard in Bristol this week, with anti-expansion campaigners fighting for a future of planet, not planes. 

In the hearing, taking place on November 8 and 9, local campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) will argue that the result of last year’s planning inquiry that granted permission to the airport to expand was wrong in law as it failed to properly account for the climate impact of the expansion. 

Should BAAN be successful, the decision will return to planning inspectors who will then have to reevaluate the arguments from scratch, possibly resulting in a reversed outcome. 

Read more: Airport expansion decision to be made in Bristol

A decision of national significance

BAAN’s Stephen Clarke said: ‘This is the biggest climate related decision in this area for a generation. But be in no doubt: whatever they say, these expansion plans are all about profit for the airport owners (Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan) overriding any concerns about the environment or thought for the local residents. It must be stopped!’

‘Despite continual news of devastating floods, wildfires, storms and droughts, the inspectors basically decided to completely ignore the current climate chaos. Unbelievably they concluded that climate change “must be regarded as neutral in the planning balance”. 

‘Bristol Airport of course claims it will soon be carbon-neutral. Conveniently they neglect to say that their calculation does not include the emissions from all the planes and vehicle movements that occur. 

‘The airport is putting all its faith in technology that has yet to be developed to a commercial level as well the dubious practice of offsetting. These fanciful ideas will not reduce carbon emissions in the immediate future so we can expect climate breakdown to get worse.

‘This is a decision that now has national significance because more than twenty other regional airports have plans to expand. This would lead to at least an extra 80 million passengers a year which will make it almost impossible to comply with the UK’s legal obligation to be carbon-neutral by 2050.’

Planned actions

Different campaign groups will be present outside the courthouse, on Redcliffe Street, throughout the hearing. 

On Tuesday morning, a 60-strong choir will walk from Welsh Back to the courthouse, joined by the Bristol Landing Crew, healthcare group Medact and the Aged Agitators. At midday on Tuesday, XR Families are planning to surround the courthouse in a symbolic action. 

‘Bristol Airport is big enough,’ said Lilian Stevens, a charity worker and mother of one.

She continued: ‘Our local council heard the arguments for and against expansion and listened to the 84% of local residents who don’t want more flights. As well as the additional noise, pollution, and traffic, we can’t afford to pump even more carbon into our atmosphere in a Climate Emergency. The High Court needs to respect local democracy.’

A programme of speakers is organised including Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, Dale Vince, founder of green energy company Ecotricity, and West of England metro mayor Dan Norris, who has previously spoken out against airport expansion.

At a rally against the expansion in February this year, Norris said that airport expansion ‘will drive a coach and horses’ through regional climate targets. He also criticised the airport, saying that whilst others were going out of their way to reduce emissions, the airport was seeking ‘special treatment’ to continue increasing their own emissions. 

The landing crew have become a familiar site at anti-expansion protests. Image: James Ward.
Members of BAAN at a climate demo in Keynsham in June. Image: James Ward.

Actions in the run-up

There were actions last week in the run-up to the hearing. 

XR Youth blocked an Airport Flyer bus from departing Temple Meads station with banners reading “Fair Travel not Air Travel”. They said that it is unfair that even as community bus services are being cut, the airport bus is increasing its frequency, funnelling more people towards flying. 

Over the weekend, activists from Bristol Airport is Big Enough (BABE) sent personalised flower arrangements to senior managers at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which owns Bristol Airport, with invitations to meet with community campaigners to discuss airport expansion plans. 

BABE has also been connecting with OTPP workers via LinkedIn in a bid to pressure the company from within. 

Tanguy Tomes, of BABE, said: ‘OTPP talk a good talk on both climate change and community, but the experience of those living around their ever-growing airports, including here in Bristol, makes a mockery of those values. We’re looking forward to seeing what OTPP staff make of it all.’

How we got here

Bristol Airport was granted planning permission to expand by two million passengers per year, from their current cap of ten million, by planning inspectors earlier this year following a 36-day inquiry held between July and October last year in Weston-Super-Mare. 

Since it was announced in 2019, the expansion plans have been objected to by thousands of local residents in several public consultations. The West of England Combined Authority, Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council have all publicly objected to the plans. 

Campaign groups including BAAN, Extinction Rebellion (XR), XR Youth and BABE have long protested the expansion, including through multiple protests both inside and outside the airport. 

Protesters climbed on top of Weston-Super-Mare town hall during the planning inquiry atlast year. Image: James Ward.

The hearing coincides with the COP27 meeting of world leaders in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. It is now widely accepted that the target of the Paris climate accords, signed in 2015 and pledging nations to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, will not be met, with disastrous consequences for people around the world and the ecosystems on which we rely. 

Aviation is recognised as a major contributor to global heating. The sector is responsible for 3.5% of global emissions and, even as other sectors are reducing emissions, those from aviation are growing. 

Flying is also a deeply unequal business. The emissions from one passenger on a transatlantic flight are greater than the annual emissions of an average citizen of many countries, most of whom will likely never have set foot on a plane.  

A study from 2020 concluded that just 1% of the global population are responsible for 50% of all commercial aviation emissions. 

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