At a recent Bristol Council members’ forum, the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, responded to a question from Green councillor Stephen Clarke criticising the airport’s plans to increase passenger numbers from 8million to 12 million. [Adam Postan, B24/7, https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/bristols-mass-transit-ambitions-rely-on-airport-expansion-says-mayor/] The Mayor said it was not a simple choice of ‘good and evil’ when it came to creating jobs or protecting the environment.
Grappling with reality
‘The Airport expansion is not straightforward. We have these challenging aims in Bristol of delivering an inclusive and a sustainable economy, and sometimes sustainability and creating jobs clash. They’re both really important aims. That’s what we need to wrestle with.’
Wrestling? The Mayor is in effect holding himself in a neck-lock like a cartoon grappler. Economic growth and sustainability only ‘clash’ when sustainability is seen as a drag on unconstrained economic growth. In fact all economic growth has to be sustainable otherwise it is, by definition, unsustainable and will implode.
The Mayor’s attempt to wrestle his way out of his incoherent position would be helped if he adopted the widely accepted 21st century model of economic sustainability: private and public sector practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community.
The truth about pollution
‘The model of the airport is not just about adding flights to the UK’s total’ claims the Mayor, ‘The Airport’s plan is to ease Heathrow by reducing the number of car journeys from the South West and Wales to Heathrow and Gatwick. That’s not insignificant.’
In fact business users constitute about 15% of Bristol Airport passenger traffic. Does the Airport plan to challenge Heathrow and offer flights to far-flung destinations to divert the minuscule number of businessmen who find it essential to travel to international destinations such as China, India, North or South America, the Middle East, the Far East. Bristol Airport simply can’t handle large aircraft, and Ryanair has already cut flights to ‘business destinations’ because they simply don’t pay.
The Mayor expresses concern over the pollution caused by tourists travelling to London tourist airports. So more local users will produce more local pollution! He makes no mention of the increased tourist numbers that will be sucked in along the M4 and M5 from South Wales, Cornwall, Devon and elsewhere. (If the Mayor want to divert traffic from Heathrow and Gatwick let him point them towards Cardiff, an international airport with a decent runway – compared with Bristol Airport which has the shortest runway in the UK and is not fully authorised for bad weather operation.)
Thinking in circles: a mass transit system
The Mayor claimed that ‘ambitious plans’ for a mass transit network around Bristol will be severely undermined if Bristol Airport’s proposed expansion does not go ahead:
‘If you don’t support the airport expansion you severely undermine the case for a mass transit system (MTS). You’re talking about thousands and thousands of car journeys being taken off Bristol’s roads through a viable alternative…’
So the Airport must expand in order to justify a mass transit system to serve the additional passenger traffic generated by expansion… This is the Topsy Turvy logic of a Mayor who has disappeared down the rabbit hole to an economic Wonderland. The mayor seems oblivious to the topsy-turvey equation of creating an additional 23,800 flights to eliminate ‘thousands of car journeys’.
The regional economy
‘On balance I support the expansion of the airport because it’s a key part of the future of the city, tackling poverty, the strength of our economy and all the other things it can unlock’.
The Mayor’s claims that Airport expansion will make a major contribution to regional employment bear little scrutiny. In fact there’s little evidence that Airport expansion will bring increased economic benefit to the region. Much Airport employment is low-paid and unskilled or semiskilled and the claims a dependent supply chain questionable. The aviation sector generally is geared to investment in automation and technological change across a spectrum of jobs from site services to retail and leisure outlets to passenger-facing operations such as check-in desks. There’s no hard evidence that Airport expansion will bring increased permanent job opportunities to the region.
The main aim of Airport expansion is to increase the 85% tourist throughput. Tourist traffic creates a trade deficit, funnelling money out of the region to the detriment of regional retailers and leisure services in all business sectors. However, the lack of public transport will certainly be good for Airport business, feeding the highly-profitable car parking sites that the Airport hopes to establish across swathes of the Green belt.
Health and the Environment
Finally Cllr Clarke asked the Mayor how he could possibly achieve Bristol’s carbon neutrality target in 2030 while the Council supported Airport expansion? The Mayor simply replied that he ‘recognised the need for sustainable development’ but that the solutions were ‘complex’.
Not that complex… The solution to this ‘problem’ created by the Airport’s predatory expansion plan is simply to calibrate growth to sustainable local, regional and national policy frameworks. With many of these frameworks yet to be decided, such as the national Aviation Policy framework and the Joint Local Transport Plan 4, the Airport’s application premature, opportunistic and unsustainable.
The case has yet to be made that (highly speculative) future economic benefit can be equated with cost of real and massive harm to health, wellbeing and the environment that will result from this premature application for expansion.
Bristol’s reputation and the Mayor’s credibility
So why do regional politicians persist in supporting Airport expansion such a cost to community health, wellbeing and environmental destruction? We are living in an era where public faith in political leaders has dissolved. Politicians are fighting for credibility and this will only be regained through though sustainable visions and evidence-based decisions. The Mayor’s lack of understanding of the impact of Airport expansion on health and the environment across generations, lack of interest in economic evidence and susceptibility to quack claims by the Airport will result in Bristol losing its hard-won credibility as a sustainable and visionary Green Capital city.
If you share these concerns please write to the Mayor via the website: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/mayor/contact-the-mayor-form