Presentation to Executive Committee, North Somerset Council 11th September 2011 by John Adams, resident of North Somerset, a near neighbour of the Bristol Airport for 24 years, and director of the Stop Bristol Airport Expansion campaign.
Most arguments against expansion focus on the significant harms to health and well being of communities in North Somerset, the inflated claims of economic and social benefits made by the Airport, and the challenge of the global climate emergency seen through the prism of the adverse impact on the region.
However significant issues arise should the Airport fail to expand as anticipated in the application. The Joint Local Transport Plan 4 foresees substantial investment in roads and infrastructure linked with Airport expansion – a substantial investment of public money. A number of reports on the future of aviation, published by the international investment consultants including Deloitte and Price Waterhouse Cooper, show that this could well be a high-risk investment.
For example ‘The New Normal For Aviation’ from PWC states that the UK and other western economies are going through a prolonged period of structural adjustment from fluctuating demand, restricted finance, and more volatile energy and commodity prices. A long period of strong consumer-driven growth in the West is coming to an end and air travel is very sensitive to fluctuations in GDP and financial shocks. So the new normal world for airlines and airports will be a climate of financial uncertainty and volatility’.
This means that growth is likely to be relatively weak in the mature aviation markets of US and Europe. Those largely dependent on these markets are likely to struggle and may not survive the next wave of industry consolidation. A key lesson from past experience of managing economic and financial volatility in the aviation industry is to ensure that capacity expansion is cautious and gradual, reducing the risk of large airport expansion in weakening demand conditions. Bristol Airport’s application heeds neither warning. The report concludes that ‘there are many examples of airlines and airports which have found that investments planned in the upswing of the cycle come on stream just as demand is turning down—creating a double whammy for profitability and cash flow’.
A report from Deloitte on ‘Sustainability and Climate Change’ also points to the high risks of Airport investment. These include:
1. changing economic circumstances that will reduce passenger numbers through factors such as UK economic downturn, increased use of surface transport, increased fuel prices, taxation on flights, reduction in demand as sun-spot holiday locations become overheated;
2. the inevitability of national and international legislation affecting aviation in the light of the climate emergency;
3. instability and unpredictability caused by climate change including increased periods of adverse weather conditions leading to flight delays becoming the norm. Bristol Airport is already physically exposed as the second highest airport in UK on the vulnerable Broadown site.
In short the Airport is a volatile and unpredictable business in a high-risk investment sector. Despite its claims to the contrary, the Airport offers no benefits that begin to compensate for the harm it causes to health, well-being and the environment in and beyond North Somerset.
The conclusion must be that North Somerset investment in infrastructure associated with Bristol Airport expansion would be unjustifiable on any count. On one hand, supporting growth would contribute to the immediate climate emergency with further adverse consequences for North somerset and beyond. On the other, a downturn in Airport use would result in a very poor outcome for a public sector investment unwisely committed to a volatile and unpredictable business. Planning permissions and associated infrastructure expenditure should be geared to reasonable and sustainable regional needs rather than the greedy and predatory ambitions of Bristol Airport. Council investment is better committed to increased spending on education, social care and welfare, and encouraging new kinds of business that would make North Somerset an aspirational model of creativity and sustainable innovation.
Deloitte (2019). ‘Sustainability and Climate Change’ pp.25-26 (accessed 10.09.19)
Price Waterhouse Cooper (2013). ‘The New normal for Airport Investment: Has the Trend Line Shifted? The Impact of Airport Valuations’