FLIGHT OR FIGHT
AIRPORT WEIGHING UP ITS OPTIONS AFTER SURPRISE REJECTION OF EXPANSION PLAN
BRISTOL Airport is considering its options after its controversial expansion plans were unexpectedly rejected by North Somerset Council.
The airport wanted to increase its current capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers per year, while adding thousands more parking spaces.
Refusing planning permission by 18 votes to seven, North Somerset councillors said the environmental and societal impacts outweighed the economic benefits of the expansion.
Because the committee went against officer advice, the decision will have to be ratified by the council at a future meeting.
After the decision, Bristol Airport chief executive Dave Lees said that it risked “putting the brakes” on the future growth of the region when other areas are forging ahead.
He said the firm would “reflect” and consider whether to appeal or submit fresh plans.
Councillor Peter Bryant had claimed the airport was likely to win an appeal and that the costs to the council would be “astronomical”, but authority leader Don Davies rejected those “fright tactics”.
Councillor Davies said Bristol Airport should come back with fresh plans which show how the two million extra passengers would get to the airport via public transport.
Climate campaigners have hailed the decision by North Somerset Council’s planning committee as “historic”.
They hope that it will act as a catalyst when it comes to the aviation industry and inspire other local councils to reject airport expansion.
Angela Terry, environmental scientist and founder of climate action website One Home, said: “North Somerset Council is to be congratulated on this courageous decision, which is a firm statement on how seriously the region views the climate emergency.
“The gravity of the situation means that all political decisionmaking must place climate change centre-stage and today we have seen this in action.
“Bristol and the surrounding area can now continue its work to decarbonise, knowing that it does not have to fight a losing battle with increasing aviation emissions.
“This was the right decision for people and planet and the airport must now draw a line under this damaging proposal.”
Monday night’s decision came as a surprise to many, especially as officers had recommended that the committee approve the application.
But following a four-and-a-halfhour meeting in Weston-superMare, councillors rejected the expansion plans by 18 votes to seven.
Calling for the application to be rejected at the special planning and reg, Cllr Steve Hogg said: “This will fundamentally damage the relationship between this council and residents for years to come.
“I want to propose in the strongest possible terms we vote against the officers’ recommendation and refuse permission.
“This will either go to an appeal or a judicial review. Either way, public money will be spent. Would you rather spend public money defending the community or facilitating the expansion of a large sin
“We must weigh the benefits – which flow towards the airport, its shareholders, pension funds and those seeking a cheap holiday in the Med – against the unbearable burdens that will fall on the local community and the environment.”
Challenging the officers’ suggestion local authorities have little control over emissions linked to aviation, Cllr Hogg said: “We have direct control over the future emissions. We do that by turning down this application.”
Bristol Airport had claimed its expansion would benefit the West of England’s economy to the tune of £210million. North Somerset Council’s consultants were more conservative, putting the figure between £110million and £167million.
Supporting the application, Unite representative Mark Hutchison said the expansion would create thousands of jobs and bring a huge boost to the region. Business owners said the expansion was necessary for them to thrive.
The application had been met with 8,800 objections and some 2,400 messages of support.
Cllr Peter Crew said many of the topics raised were not directly related to the planning application, adding: “I can see nothing wrong with the application in planning terms and I am certainly in favour of it.”
Cllr Terry Porter said refusal would not make any difference to climate change, adding: “We have to support this. I will vote against most of you.”
They were among only seven councillors who voted against refusing the application. Cllr Hogg’s proposal was backed by 18 councillors, and there was one abstention.
So what happens next?
Despite a resounding refusal from North Somerset’s planning and regulatory committee the process is far from over.
North Somerset Council has a very particular process when it comes to planning decisions.
Because it was a major application and because the committee went against the officers’ recommendations, the decision will return to the same committee to be ratified.
A date has not yet been set for the planning and regulatory committee meeting to ratify the vote.
During this meeting officers will present the reasons for refusal that councillors agreed on Monday night and ask whether the committee wants to stand by its original decision or change its mind and approve the scheme.
If the decision is ratified, Bristol Airport has six months to lodge an appeal, which would be heard at a public inquiry.
This can be very costly to councils if the Planning Inspector decides to uphold the appeal and overturn the council’s decision to refuse.
There is also a danger if the decision is overturned that North Somerset Council loses its powers to enforce any conditions on the applicant when it comes to the development.
It would be for the Planning Inspector who is overseeing the case to decide what costs and conditions to impose on North Somerset Council if they disagree with its decision.
A planning inquiry for an application of this size could take several weeks with witnesses and experts called to give evidence for both sides.
There is a chance that the Secretary of State may decide he wants to have the final say in the decision.
If this is the case the planning inquiry will still go ahead but the planning inspector will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State and the final decision will then be in his hands.