Plan to expand Bristol airport rejected after climate protests
A scheme to expand Bristol airport has been rejected following protests that it would exacerbate the climate emergency, damage the health of local people, and harm flora and fauna.
Officers had recommended that North Somerset council approve the expansion and warned that the authority could face a costly public inquiry if it turned it down.
But following a four-and-a-half-hour meeting in Weston-super-Mare, councillors rejected the expansion plans by 18 votes to seven. Activists called the decision historic and said it would inspire others to reject airport expansion plans.
Don Davies, the leader of the council, said: “What the committee has considered is that the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to airport expansion.
“I know some people will be upset by this decision and I am sure that we can reconsider it in future when the airline industry has decarbonised and the public transport links to the airport are far stronger.”
The airport, about seven miles south of Bristol, was last given permission to expand in 2011 from 7 million to 10 million passengers a year. It expects to reach its present permitted capacity by 2021 and wants to increase the number of passengers it can handle to 12 million.
Plans included extending the passenger terminus and plane taxiways. The proposal also featured more than 3,000 extra car-parking spaces – much of it on greenbelt land – and major changes to roads around the airport.
The airport, which is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, argued that expanding the airport would generate an extra £1.4bn to the regional economy over the next decade and directly create hundreds of new jobs.
But more than 8,000 people objected to the expansion, and before the meeting, Extinction Rebellion organised a three-day protest with dozens of activists symbolically burying their heads in the sand at a nearby beach.
During the meeting on Monday night, the objectors claimed the scheme would lead to an increase in people suffering conditions such as asthma and claimed the project would harm birdlife and precious colonies of bats.
Over 100 rebels joined our Ostrich friend by sticking their heads in the sand too 📸 @SimonHolliday and Juanita Mackenzie. Decision to be made on 10th Feb in Weston Super Mare. Make your voice heard by joining us for our next action! #noairportexpansion pic.twitter.com/LxcxCMFjdj— Extinction Rebellion Bristol (@XRBristol) February 9, 2020
Emma Crewe, a North Somerset resident and university professor, said: “In the last year we have witnessed an incredible and diverse movement of volunteers young and old springing up across the south-west making arguments against airport expansion. I think they are motivated by extreme concern for the planet, the greenbelt and the beauty of this part of Somerset.”
Environmental consultant Adrian Gibbs told the special meeting of the council’s planning and regulatory committee that the airport would need to plant millions of trees every year to offset the CO2 that would be created by the scheme. He added: “Our house is on fire. To expand an airport is to throw fuel on it.”
A spokesman for the airport said it was disappointing. “This decision risks putting the brakes on the region’s economy by turning away airlines who want to serve the south-west market, shutting the door to international trade and tourism at a time when the UK needs to show it is open for business,” he said.
“By preventing Bristol airport from meeting the demand for air travel from within the region it serves, the council will simply exacerbate the situation which already sees millions of passengers a year from our region drive to London airports in order to fly, creating carbon emissions and congestion in the process.”
Security was tight at the meeting, with placards, glue, loud-hailers and non-religious face coverings all banned. Almost 5,000 people watched the debate live online, spending about 27 minutes viewing it on average.
Sarah Warren, the cabinet member for the climate emergency in neighbouring Bath and North East Somerset council, told the meeting the plan was incompatible with the global environmental crisis.
It is not the end of the process. Because the councillors went against the officers’ recommendations, the decision will return to the same committee to be ratified. If the decision is ratified, the applicant has six months to lodge an appeal, which would be heard at a public inquiry.
This article first appeared on the Guardian
edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network