Outcry as airport expansion gets High Court go-ahead

Campaigners have reacted with dismay to the recent ruling that gives the green light for Bristol’s airport expansion plans.

Environmentalists had argued six grounds on which they said the planning inspectorate’s decision should be overturned, but Mr Justice Lane found that each of them failed and the planning inspectorate had made no error in law.

Following the High Court ruling on January 31, youth climate activists held a symbolic action with fake blood to highlight their opposition to the airport expansion.

Members of Extinction Rebellion Youth Bristol (XRYB) sat down outside the Bristol Civil Justice Centre – where the announcement was made  – and had fake blood poured over them in front of a banner reading ‘Lungs before profits’ – a reference to the worsened air pollution as one of the negative effects of airport expansions.

Bristol Airport says that sustainability is part of its expansion plans and it wants the airport to be net zero by 2030.

Chief executive  David Lees said: “The main issue in this case is not whether emissions from any additional aircraft using Bristol Airport should be ignored. Plainly, they should not. Rather, it is about how and by whom those emissions should be addressed.”

Mr Lees described the decision as “excellent news” for the region’s economy and said the expansion will create up to 5,000 jobs while delivering more international destinations for the South West and South Wales.

He added: “We will do this while working towards our ambitious target of net zero carbon operations by 2030. We look forward to working with stakeholders and the community to deliver our vision to be everyone’s favourite airport.”

An XR Youth spokesperson said: “We took action to highlight the blood that’s on the hands of those in the so-called ‘justice’ system that allowed the expansion of Bristol Airport. 

“People in the global south are already dying because of the climate crisis, with every year bringing more and more extreme weather events.

“We will not allow our government to prioritise immediate profits for overseas companies – such as the Ontario Teachers Fund that owns the airport – over the lives that are being and will continue to be lost due to the climate crisis.”

The appeal was mounted by the Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), which has been arguing planning inspectors were wrong to ignore the impact a bigger airport would have on climate change.

But the inspectorate, which is an agency of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, says a local decision cannot overturn national government policy.

Reacting to the High Court decision on the airport, Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “The deep concerns of local people and the decisions of local politicians have come into head-on collision with national government policy that is not fit for purpose.

“For all their warm words this decision shows the government is not serious about the climate emergency.

“Lord Justice Lane confirmed that the expansion will impact the environment but as we know Government policy gives no consideration to the combined impact of airport emissions.

“This must change. We are all seeing the devastating effects of climate change with floods in Keynsham a few weeks ago and record breaking temperatures this summer. So many plants and animals are under threat of being lost forever.”

Expansion would see the airport increase its capacity from ten million to 12 million passengers per year.

Green Party co-leader and councillor for Clifton Down Carla Denyer, said: “This is a devastating outcome. Bristol airport’s unnecessary expansion will mean thousands of extra flights which will produce one million tonnes of CO2 equivalents every year, right at the point we most need to be reducing our emissions. Not to mention more traffic, noise and air pollution for local people, and it will risk harming endangered local species. All this in face of clear local opposition.

“Unfortunately, both the Conservatives and Labour want to have their cake and eat it when it comes to climate change, claiming to support climate action but unwilling to accept any change from business as usual. In the real world there is no such thing as green aviation or carbon neutral jet fuel. We must listen to the scientists, not the airports.”

XR youth members are covered in fake blood at January’s protest