6 people stand outside a Bristol court house holding a banner reading "stop Bristol.airpprt expansion"

Bristol Airport expansion overcomes last legal hurdle as campaigners’ Court of Appeal hearing refused

The last attempt by campaigners to stop the expansion of Bristol Airport has failed, leaving the airport with no further legal barriers to begin expansion works. 

On Thursday, May 18, the Court of Appeal refused an application by BAAN (Bristol Airport Action Network) to appeal a High Court ruling in November which supported an earlier decision by planning inspectors to allow the expansion. 

Steve Clarke, one of the coordinators of BAAN, said:

‘I am naturally very disappointed and angry about this decision. It now seems very clear to me that the planning system concerning airport expansion has been rigged by the government to ignore the climate crisis. 

‘Bristol Airport themselves pretend to be concerned about local stakeholders and the climate but nothing could be clearer evidence than this process that they simply don’t give a damn about either. 

‘What they must understand though is that we are not going away; on the contrary we will be energised by this ridiculous decision and will take the fight to a national level.’

Not a defeat

Bristol Airport wishes to expand from its current cap of 10 million passengers per year to 12 million, increase the number of flights, including night flights, and build and additional car park on Greenbelt land. 

The planned expansion is predicted to add an extra one million tonnes of carbon dioxide to Bristol’s emissions every year, and cause an additional 10,000 car journeys to the airport every day. 

Though the news of the Court of Appeal refusal comes as a blow to BAAN and all campaigners who have worked for four years to prevent the expansion, Steve was keen to highlight that the campaign has been succesful is preventing the expansion for as long as it has. 

From the beginning of the campaign, BAAN has worked alongside local people from across the West of England who will be affected by airport expansion, from increased noise pollution to road congestion.

Thanks to widespread support the group has collected thousands of objections on the airport’s planning applications, including over 11,000 on the original 2019 application.

How we got here

Bristol Airport first sought permission to expand in 2019. This was refused by North Somerset County Council in February 2020 following strong and sustained campaigning by BAAN and other concerned groups. 

The airport appealed this decision, prompting a planning inquiry which took place between July and October 2021. The inspectors overturned the council’s decision, granting the airport permission to expand. The inspectors’ report was controversial for its rejection of arguments relating to the climate impacts of airport expansion, saying that climate change is “neutral in the planning balance.” At the time, Steve Clarke called the inspectors’ decision ‘absolutely crazy.’ 

Expansion has been opposed by West of England mayor Dan Norris, who said the expansion would ‘drive a coach and horses through the region’s climate plans. The West of England Combined Authority, which Norris heads, formally objected to the expansion, as did Bristol City Council. 

BAAN challenged the inspectors decision in the High Court in November 2022 but this was denied. The Court of Appeal was the last legal avenue for BAAN to oppose expansion. 

What next for the campaigners?

Bristol is one of 20 airports across tbe UK seeking to expand. Many have their own anti-expansion campaigns. 

BAAN which are now working together at a national level. 

BAAN recently organised an in-person meeting with fifteen other groups who are campaigning on the issue of airport expansion and who have agreed to work together to stop the business-as-usual approach of continued expansion of aviation. 

Why is this a problem? 

Aviation is responsible for around 3% of global carbon emissions and made up around 7% of the UK’s carbon emissions in 2018. Current UK policy on aviation is primarily contained in the Jet Zero Strategy and the Making Best Use policy. 

These policies have come under attack by campaigners, lawyers and scientists who say they are not for for purpose. 

Neither policy includes emissions from international aviation, despite these constituting 93% of UK flights in 2018. Whilst emission from domestic flights fell by 5.9% that year, emissions from international flights increased by 1.1%, according to the Climate Change Committee

Emissions from international aviation will not be included in UK policy until the sixth carbon budget in 2033.  

Until then, UK aviation decarbonisation policy rests on voluntary international agreements and on technological fixes such as sustainable aviation fuels. 

Steve Clarke said: ‘The aviation industry and government are planning for a further increase in UK passengers of more than 70% by 2050 while claiming that costly and unproven technologies, and a rapid scaling of alternative fuels, will help the sector to achieve net-zero by the same date. Its very clearly a fantasy being used to justify decisions like that at Bristol.’

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