‘We’re staying hopeful’: Why the 4-year fight to stop Bristol Airport’s expansion isn’t over yet

Bristol Airport Action Network protesting the proposed expansion of Bristol airport.
Bristol Airport Action Network protesting the proposed expansion of Bristol airport. Copyright Bristol Airport Action Network - BAAN / Twitter
By Charlotte Elton
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The High Court has given Bristol airport permission to increase its annual capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers.

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The UK High Court has approved the expansion of Bristol Airport - a ruling climate campaigners have vowed to fight.

The decision gives the airport permission to increase its annual capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers.

Activists from Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) - the group that mounted the legal challenge against the expansion - have pledged to appeal the ruling.

“We are very disappointed, of course,” said Stephen Clarke, one of the coordinators for BAAN.

“But we have spoken to our barrister and she has identified various potential grounds for appeal.

“This decision cannot be allowed to stand - it is madness.”

Why has Bristol Airport been granted approval to expand?

Bristol Airport first announced its intention to expand in 2018. Locals hit back, flooding local politicians with 8,900 letters of objection.

In 2020, the North Somerset Council blocked the project, citing environmental concerns.

But the local council’s decision was later overruled by the UK government’s Planning Inspectorate.

Now, the High Court has supported the Planning Inspectorate. Chief Lord Justice Lane conceded that the expansion would have an impact on the environment, but argued that a local government cannot overturn a decision made by a national government agency.

The ruling “trashes local democracy,” Clarke said.

“There were 11,000 responses to the planning consultation request, and 84 per cent of those were against [the expansion],” Clarke says.

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The proposed Bristol airport expansion will see an additional 2 million passengers travel through the airport every year.canva

“Local opinion has been completely ignored. The only people the ruling seems to benefit are the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan [the company which owns the airport].”

A Bristol Airport spokesperson welcomed the decision, insisting that it will create 5,000 new jobs and provide a massive cash injection to improve customer experience.

The airport has pledged to become net-zero by 2030. However, this will only include operational emissions, like baggage conveyers and shuttle buses, excluding emissions from flights.

“When they say net-zero, they’re not talking about the planes, they’re talking about the lightbulbs,” said Clarke.

“It’s confused people, it’s classic greenwash.”

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What environmental impact will the airport expansion have?

If it is allowed to go ahead, the planned expansion will see two million additional passengers pass through Bristol Airport every year.

It will also spew an additional 484,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere each year according to research by the New Economics Foundation - six times more than the airport predicts.

The ruling could have wider ramifications outside of Bristol too. Multiple UK airports are planning expansions and this court decision may limit the power of local governments to stop them.

But campaigners aren’t giving up.

“We stay hopeful. We’re not always going to be under this government,” said Clarke.

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“This application was made in December 2018. Environmental awareness has spread a lot since then - and people continue to become informed on the issue.”

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