Bristol Airport expansion refused on environmental grounds against officer advice

North Somerset councillors have rejected plans to increase the annual capacity of Bristol Airport by 20 per cent, on grounds including that the scheme's wider negative impact on the environment would outweigh the "narrower benefits to airport expansion".

A visualisation of the airport expansion plans (Image: Bristol Airport)
A visualisation of the airport expansion plans (Image: Bristol Airport)

Bristol Airport submitted outline plans in December 2018 for development to increase the annual passenger capacity of the airport from 10 million to 12 million.

The plans included two extensions to the terminal building, a five-storey car park and changes to the airport’s internal road system.

But North Somerset Council members yesterday refused the application after a special meeting of the council’s planning and regulatory committee lasting four-and-a-half hours. 

Recommending approval, planning officers advised that the expansion was supported by national planning policy and cited the projected economic benefits of the plans as "a matter of significant weight" in support of the application.

Officers noted that the airport handled 8.9 million passengers in 2019 and expects to reach its currently permitted capacity of 10 million annual passengers in 2021.

They described the environmental impacts of the proposals as "broad and complex", citing factors including climate change, noise, air quality, and public health. In addition, officers advised the airport is largely located in the green belt.

According to officers, 7,632 representations were received, of which 5,250 were objections and 2,382 were in support of the proposal. Officers said the most common objection was the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the development.

However, officers said the airport had proposed a plan "to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2025" and while further detail was still required, "it is considered that planning conditions are appropriate" to deal with the matter,

Advising on the development’s impact on the green belt, officers said much of the proposed work "would not harm the openness of the green belt", but advised that plans to increase car parking were "harmful to the green belt by definition".

However, despite the recommendation to approve, members voted against the plans. 

North Somerset Council leader Don Davies said: "The airport currently handles just over eight million passengers and can still expand to the 10 million passengers a year limit it already has, so more people will still be able to fly from there and the number of people who work there should not be affected.

"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."

In accordance with the local authority’s procedures for planning applications refused against officers’ recommendation, the decision will go forward to be ratified at a future meeting of the planning and regulatory committee.

The decision will also be referred to the secretary of state. 

Last month, an Essex council overturned its previous resolution to approve plans for the expansion of Stansted Airport due to concerns about noise, air quality and climate change, against a fresh recommendation for approval from officers. 

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