A new reality
In February 2020 North Somerset Council comprehensively rejected Bristol Airport’s planning application to expand its operation. The Airport has until 19th September 2020 to appeal this decision. Many things have changed since February, with dramatic impact on both the Airport and North Somerset Council. The new reality has serious implications for the region that could be made significantly worse unless the Airport waives its right to appeal .
Covid-19 has exposed the inherent instability of an Airport business that gambled on absurdly rapid growth and lost. The business failure of the Airport is having a serious effect on employees, casually taken on in the arrogant expectation of unimpeded growth and now discarded . The Airport’s failure will be felt across the region. Yet, backed by its enormously wealthy Canadian owners , the Airport refuses to withdraw the threat of a costly appeal against North Somerset Council’s rejection of the planning application.
The challenge for North Somerset Council
The new Council inherited the legacy of an unhealthy economic dependency on the the Airport and is fully aware of the problems caused by this greedy cuckoo squatting in the North Somerset nest . The need to establish a more diverse and reliable base for business rates is urgent, especially when reduced income from Airport operations is coupled with the possibility of around 36% budget cuts relating to Covid-19 and the consequent impact on Council services. On top of this, the Council is now forced to set aside funds for the legal costs of an appeal and provide for the possibility that it might lose the appeal on planning technicalities incurring liability for the Airport’s considerable legal costs.
Why the Airport should remove the threat of further legal action
The Airport has become a pariah under current ownership and management: it’s ongoing refusal to withdraw the threat of appeal is characteristic behaviour and constitutes a direct threat to our hard-pressed Council and the communities of the region. Yet it has nothing to gain from pursuing the obsolete planning application; it will be a very long time before passengers return in numbers and its dystopian vision is not fit for purpose in the new era that prioritises social and environmental responsibilities over economic consideration .
The refusal also shows deep contempt for the Council, local MPs, community groups and local parishes who have joined forces to oppose the expansion plans as well as the several thousand residents who registered personal objections with the Council. Rather than bluster and threat it needs a radical new approach to the new reality, centred on long-term sustainable development, that fully recognises and addresses the impact of aviation and the limitations of the site at Lulsgate Bottom.
The bargain basement?
The Council’s financial vulnerability also places enormous pressure on Council planning officers, who originally supported the planning application. Has the Airport has weaponised the right to appeal, hoping to trade the threat of appeal in return for undertakings relating to future development? These could be granted under the shadowy ‘Permitted Development’ regulations that have already allowed the Airport to build a brand-new headquarters building on the A38 and then immediately place it on the rental market. The Airport’s track record of ruthless self-interest coupled with lack of transparency in the planning process inevitably raises speculation about the possibility of backroom deals.
The Airport has until 17th September to decide whether or not to appeal the North Somerset decision. It should immediately and publicly abandon any intention to appeal to remove the corrosive uncertainties inflicted on the Council and local communities.
If, however, it decides to go ahead community groups will again band together in a crowd-funded initiative to employ leading legal advisers to support the Council in the appeal process. Watch this space.
Media interest in this post
21 July 20. Radio Bristol, ‘Afternoons on RB’, James Hanson interviewed John Adams (SBAEx)
23 July 20 Bristol Evening Post / Bristol Live https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/campaigners-call-bristol-airport-drop-4354740.amp
29 July North Somerset Times
 The Airport still hopes to exploit the minimal public transport access to the Broadfield Down / Lulsgate bottom site with a land grab, extending its hugely profitable car parks into the Greenbelt. More flights would funnel yet more road traffic (largely from beyond the region) into North Somerset, adding to the existing filth, noise and disruption the Airport already inflicts on the region and the wider world.
 The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan
 The rapid growth of the Airport over the last decade or so reflected the cosy relationship between Bristol Airport and North Somerset Council stretching back to 2007 until the timely wake-up call delivered by the voters of North Somerset in May 2019.
 A global sea change. In the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has made the extraordinary statement (for a Chancellor of any political party) that he is prioritising social and environmental values over economic concerns.