Until the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March 2020 Bristol Airport was preparing to handle some 9 million passengers per annum (mppa). In December 2018 it submitted a planning application to North Somerset Council to expand to 12 million passengers, with plans to increase to 20 million by 2030. It already has permission to grow to 10 mppa without further approval. North Somerset Council rejected the planning application in February 2020; the Airport has until August 2020 to decide whether or not to appeal.
For comparison London Luton Airport carried 15.8 million passengers in 2017. Luton Airport has good railway connections, multiple coach services, easy motorway access and sustainable parking provided by authorised operators. Bristol Airport has none of these.
The airport is owned by a global investment fund based in Canada. The plan to grow passenger numbers by 50% is symptomatic of a predatory drive for profits regardless of the cost to health and well-being of communities in distant North Somerset.
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Despite the inflated claims made by the Airport and shamefully echoed by many local politicians, expansion will bring little economic benefit to the region. Airport jobs are low paid and / or temporary contracts, business users a small minority (16%) of passengers, and holiday makers funnel money out of the region.
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The Airport started life as a small flying club, deep in the Green Belt. Existing road and transport links are minimal and now overburdened. A 50%, increase in passengers, mostly from outside the region, will ramp up the noise pollution and emissions that already damage health and well-being across the region.
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The Airport has minimal public transport, with only a single dedicated bus service. No trains, no mass transit. So more passengers arrive by car (69%) than any other UK airport. For 20 years North Somerset Council has failed to take effective action to regulate Airport parking or prosecute the many illegal parking sites that service the Airport operation.
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Bristol Airport’s application is for growth to 12 million passengers per annum (mppa), a 50% increase from 2017 when it serviced 8 million passengers. The first phase of the airport’s expansion plans would translate to around 270 flights across a 24-hour day. Yet we are at a tipping point. Climate change will create physical, social and economic disruption on an unprecedented scale. With roughly 1°C of global warming already driven by human activity, the physical impacts of climate change are being felt now.
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To date, 83% of the respondents to North Somerset Council strongly oppose the Airport planning application to expand.
This is a massive, complex planning application and North Somerset Council must provide independent evidence that the benefits of expansion will outweigh the serious harm to the health and well-being of North Somerset and the wider region.
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Bristol Airport is owned by a Canadian investment fund, the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund (OTPP). These overseas owners expect up to 15% p.a. return on their investments.
OTPP is a hands-on investor dedicated to ‘active management’. In its own words:
‘Active management’ means finding investments that we believe are undervalued and then using various business strategies to get the best possible returns‘
In other words find a vulnerable target and ramp up the profits and asset value with little regard for collateral damage to local communities …
The financial accounts for 2016 show that the Airport made a loss on its core aviation operation and is accumulating extensive debts. In 2017 the owners instructed the Airport to develop a predatory Master Plan leading to the current planning application. Their aim is to:
So the overseas investors have decided on a cynical and opportunistic strategy to ‘add value’ and get ‘the best possible returns’ by exploiting the lack of public transport to the Airport. With no rail or mass-transit links around 70% of passengers to travel to the Airport by car – a higher percentage than any other airport in the UK. Increased passenger numbers means more private cars and massively increase profits from parking – as long as North Somerset Council gives them permission to add nearly 5,000 car park spaces to the Green Belt site. The ‘Airport’ business model is effectively a parking operation with a landing strip attached.
The Airport’s complex financial structure is such that it pays very little tax in the UK. Despite the Airport’s inflated claims, expansion will not significantly benefit the regional or national economy.
Bristol Airport already has the capacity to increase business usage and service regional demand for leisure travel without further expansion.
Otherwise the Airport plays a modest part in the regional economy offering a useful regional leisure service (over 80% of passengers) and good travel options for business. However, despite the extravagant claims that it is a ‘major driver’ for the South-West economy there is little independent evidence that Airport expansion will provide increased economic benefits for the region. In fact the majority of leisure passengers make return journeys from the UK, exporting their spending power elsewhere. Business passenger movements remain a small and fairly static number at 16% of passenger traffic.
Expansion is unlikely to create increased job opportunities for local people over an above those already in employment. The Airport already imports employees from Wales, Gloucestershire and Devon. The jobs it does offer are mostly contracts and / or low-skilled, low-paid and temporary which will increasingly be mechanised.
For an authoritative rebuttal of the claim that Airport expansion benefits the regional economy see ‘The Economic Impact of Bristol International Airport‘ prepared by Professor John Whitelegg, published by the Aviation Environment Federation.
The report was originally published in October 2005 and demonstrated that aviation tourism represents a net drain on the regional economy. People leaving the region spend far more abroad than incoming tourists. In addition there are significant costs in public subsidy and for council tax payers who foot the bill for significant additional infrastructure costs (e.g. road building to facilitate airport access). Its analysis of the faulty methodology underpinning the Airport claim to bring regional benefits is still valid today. A new independent report into the economic impact on the region is currently in preparation (CPRE, expected August 2019)
The Airport is located in Green Belt landscape amongst good quality farmland on the small, historic Broadown plateau beside the Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding National Beauty. The site was originally a private flying club before being chosen by the RAF as a bad-weather training strip for pilots in World War II. As the highest airport in the UK, located on a small plateau and exposed to the vagaries of the Atlantic weather, it has inherent limitations as a commercial site.
For geo-economical reasons the site has extremely poor access and transport links. When planning consent was granted to the Airport (by North Somerset Council) in 2011, passenger numbers were capped at 10 mppa due to these limitations. Even the Airport’s own trade association, the Airport Operators Association, takes a sceptical view of the expansion plan:
‘Bristol Airport needs to have improved surface access if it is to grow beyond 10 million passengers per annum. Currently it lacks a direct rail link and has one of the lowest modal shares of public transport among major airports (14%). Road links are currently under developed and there is not a direct route to the airport from the North, West or East, meaning travellers have to drive through Bristol and then onwards via the congested A38′.
The only dedicated public transport top the Airport is single, expensive coach service. There are no rail links or other mass transit service so around 70% of passengers arrive by car. The Airport wants to sprawl across the Green Belt to maximise income and profit from parking.
Along with Leeds/Bradford, Bristol Airport has the shortest runway of any regional airport in the UK with no prospect of an extended runway or second runway. The flying club legacy lives on. The natural capacity of the site, taking account of the many limitations, is around 5 million passengers per annum.
With public transport largely comprising a single coach service, the vast majority of passengers arrive at the Airport by private car (70%). The owners of Bristol Airport see this as an opportunity to generate 50% more passengers with their cars into the airport’s orbit. Their parking plan will bury swathes of the Green Belt under concrete, create congestion and gridlock on the roads, increase traffic pollution and other hazards. The parking problems started in the 1990s since when North Somerset Council has failed to exercise effective control over the many forms of Airport parking, both legal and illegal.
In 2016 the Airport successfully lobbied North Somerset Council to reverse the planning conditions requiring a multi-storey car park (MSCP) before expansion onto the Green belt.
The Airport now wants to create parking for nearly 5,000 additional cars with the majority (2700 cars) parking on current Green Belt land. An additional multi-storey car park is promised in the application but there is no commitment to complete the current MSCP before taking the cheap option of expanding onto the Green Belt.
Further expansion will increase the Airport’s near-monopoly on parking. The Civil Aviation Authority has now warned the Airport that increased on-site might well lead to an enquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority.
Even if leisure and business passengers prefer a low-cost parking offer at the Airport’s ‘Silver Zone’, increased parking facilities go against the grain of North Somerset Council policies which prioritise the development of public transport.
Since the Airport has a near-monopoly on legitimate parking there has long been a compelling case for official parking to be open to regulated competition using park-and-ride sites. Increased parking capacity must start with off-site parking away from the Green Belt. Such options are now being proposed by independent operators.
The Airport should use on-site space to provide a public transport interchange serving the regional communities, not just passengers.
Unauthorised and illegal parking sites, often on agricultural land, demonstrate a very visible contempt for planning laws and procedures. There is further abuse of traffic control measures through illegal entrances and exits, 24-hr noise and light pollution. Cars frequently shuttled between sites and dangerous vehicle manoeuvres cause further serious road hazards.
These sites area trash the landscape. The influx of passenger cars into small country lanes creates much litter and other anti-social nuisances.
Unauthorised operators satisfy a public demand for a cheaper holiday parking, although travellers using the illegal sites frequently report bad experiences.
The highly profitable illegal ‘businesses’, driven by web-based technology and a willingness to abuse legislation, provide a green light to others with similar ambitions.
Up to 30% of airport passenger cars currently use unauthorised and illegal sites. Numbers will only increase with Airport expansion.
Further parking hazards are caused by the widespread use of lay-bys and country lanes as private car and taxi waiting areas in contravention of by-laws.
Since existing on-site parking provision does not meet peak demand North Somerset Council, Bristol Airport and the operators of illegal sites in effect collude to provide flexible parking capacity in the Green Belt.
If additional parking is necessary at current passenger levels this must provided through completion of the multi-storey car park commitments then on sites away from the Green Belt served by sustainable transfer. There is a compelling case for off-site parking, including park-and-ride facilities, to be open to regulated competition.
In sum North Somerset should adopt a parking strategy that joins up every aspect of the many parking problems caused by the Airport operation. An integrated strategy has been proposed by the Bristol Airport Parking Communities Association (BAPCoG) and already endorsed by a number of Parish Councils. It is currently seeking to persuade North Somerset Council to integrate this strategy into its Core Plan.
Increased carbon emissions from Bristol Airport expansion will outweigh the savings made by the region’s carbon-reduction policies. The Airport claim to sustainability cannot be reconciled with local, regional or national policies for reduction in carbon emissions.
The Airport want to increase night flights. Noise pollution causes serious health problems from sleep deprivation from night flights will make life impossible for most people living under the flight paths.
Light pollution with lighting from 24-hour aviation and parking has already obscured the Northern night sky and casts a halo over the Broadown plateau.
Building blight from unsuitable buildings, constructed without regard for the landscape and skyline around the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of the Mendips. The arrogance and disregard for local sentiment is embodied in the new administration building currently under construction under ‘permitted development’. What new ‘permissions’ will be given to the Airport in a Section 106 agreement slipped beneath the radar of public consultation?
Loss of biodiversity such as the nearby habitat for Horseshoe bats.
1 AVIATION CARBON EMISSIONS
It will be impossible to reconcile emissions with local, regional or national targets.The impact on local communities and the wider region will be enormous, with aircraft touching down or taking off every few minutes, day and night. As a planet, we have 12 years to avert climate catastrophe by reducing carbon emissions. Yet if the expansion plans are approved, carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft using Bristol Airport will increase by at least 59% over the next seven years. This will far outweigh savings made by the region’s carbon-reduction policies.
*2017, aviation carbon emissions at Bristol Airport were 746.77 (ktCO2/yr)and in 2026 will be 1,183.87 (ktCO2/yr) an increase of 59%. This figure could well be higher if the newer, less-polluting fleet of aircraft does not materialise.
*The West of England Combined Authorities (Bristol, South Gloucestershire & Bath and North East Somerset) have adopted targets in line with the national targets in the Climate Change Act. Taken in total, these targets require carbon emissions in the West of England to be reduced by 50% by 2035 and by 83% by 2050 on a 2014 baseline.
*The proposed development affects the wider area of the West of England and will have cross-boundary impacts in relation to air quality and carbon emission reduction that will make it impossible to reach these targets.
* Bristol Airport has a stated ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030. Why should it take so long? In any event this only applies to the Airport site since, in law, aircraft flights are excluded from the calculation. Public statements by the Airport frequently have given the impression that aircraft are included in the ‘carbon neutral’ status.
* Aircraft fuel deliveries to Bristol Airport by road transport will also increase significantly if the expansion is to go ahead, further contributing to traffic volume and air pollution in the local environment.
* Recognising that it needs to do something to reduce emissions the Airport is going to provide six charging points for electric vehicles across the airport site…
2. VEHICLE TRAFFIC: yet more traffic congestion and pollution
A successful planning application would see twelve million passengers going to and from the Airport each year, with more than 80% of passengers arriving by car since public transport access is minimal – no railway access and a single coach service from Bristol, 10 miles distant. Rural roads, already congested, will have to cope with more than 10 million airport-related car journeys every year. The extra traffic will be pumping 16% more harmful emissions into the atmosphere – and that’s a conservative estimate.
*Increased airport traffic will lead to yet more problems on the single country road (A38) that provides access to the Airport from North and South. This and other small roads around the airport are already congested, with gridlock in the high season if traffic is diverted from the M4 or M5 because of accidents – a regular occurrence.
* The Airport planning application predicts an increase of 16% in the annual level of vehicle emissions by 2026. The number assumes that future cars will be cleaner and more efficient.
* The planned growth to 12 mppa will generate an average of 9,500 additional vehicle movements per day and at peak periods around 13,000 extra per day: that’s 28,000 private vehicle journeys per day or 10.2 million car journeys a year through North Somerset to and from the Airport. Some 3.5million extra ‘movements’ will be taking place on roads that are already heavily congested.
*The Airport argues that increased flight offers will reduce the overall number of car journeys because more local people will be able to fly from Bristol rather than travelling to alternative airports. In fact, 1.5 million of the passengers who fly from Bristol already drive here from South Wales alone – a figure which will increase now the Severn bridge toll has been removed and the Government refuses to let the Welsh Assembly support growth at Cardiff Airport. Bristol Airport’s own planning statement says: ‘the largest increase in demand for Bristol Airport from 2015 to 2026 is forecast to be in North Devon and Cornwall and South Wales regions.’ A sustainable national policy would see Bristol working as part of a regional network with Cardiff and Exeter, linked with investment in the rail network for national travel.
* The Airport also claims that a larger airport at Bristol will reduce travel to the London airports. So further increasing road traffic, traffic jams and pollution throughout the region in addition to the massive increase in aviation emissions …
* Airport expansion is in direct conflict with local, national and international policies to reduce traffic.
3. AVIATION NOISE: inescapable attrition
Further intrusions from low-flying planes will bring yet greater disturbance to all who live and work in the region,including schools (already seriously affected). The majority of flights are planned for the summer months when residents are likely to beoutdoors. Night flights will be permitted during the summer, sometimes at ten minute intervals.
The Airport has failed to evaluate the impacts of noise on mental health. The effect of night noise on school attainment and other factors has not been fully quantified. There will be noise insulation grants to only to local residents along a very narrow band.
Noise measurement is a complex issue. The facts that interest us here centre on the life impact of those affected rather than the technicalities of evaluation.
* The first phase of the airport’s expansion plans would translate to around 270 flights a day, with more flights in the summer, many of which would be night flights. The Airport has failed to assess the impact of noise under 7,000 feet from the additional 23,800 flights required to service 12 million passengers per annum.
* The Airport application assumes that newer, quieter aircraft will soon be in service, but that depends on the airlines. Nobody currently knows how many new aircraft will be brought into service, by which airlines, or when…
* Ground noise (before, during and after landing and take off) is desperately disturbing for communities under the flight path and within a radius of several kilometres around the Airport. However noise is currently calculated very narrowly along the line of the runway.
* Night noise is already one of the most significant complaints from communities across a large area. If the Airport’s plans are approved, there could be night flights every ten minutes at peak times.
* Noise impacts on the natural environment, altering bird breeding patterns, disturbing wildlife and damaging sensitive local ecosystems.Taking time out to find comparative tranquillity will require journeys further afield, mostly by car (with increased road traffic ande missions).
4. GREEN BELT EROSION: there are no‘exceptional circumstances’
BristolAirport admits that the proposed development will have significant effects on the environment yet is demanding that all airport operational and related land to be ‘released from the GreenBelt designation’. In law breaches of the Green Belt should only be allowed by local authorities ‘in exceptional circumstances’. Predatory expansion insearch of increased profit doesn’t meet this criterion!
5. LIGHT POLLUTION.
The Airport is looking to extend the Silver Zone car park to add approximately 2,700 additional spaces on land that’s currently in designated Green Belt, which the law states should only be breached ‘in exceptional circumstances’. Lighting from 24-hour aviation and parking operations already obscure the night sky and castsa glow visible for miles around. This will increase significantly with expansion of the Silver Zone car park.
This is again a highly technical area to evaluate but the human impact is only too evident
* The lighting at Bristol Airport is extensive: the light generated is comparable to the middle of Bristol.
* Considerable light spill comes from the car parking facilities both the north and south side of the airport. Some lighting columns are 8 metres tall and the flood lighting masts in certain areas of the airfield are 30 metres high.
* The Eastern apron of the airfield is only just coming into operation and night light from aircraft will exacerbate light pollution. The measures put forward to reduce light pollution are inadequate.
* There is a significant visual impact from the Mendips Areaof Outstanding Natural Beauty. Not only the glow but the airport lightsthemselves are clearly visible from the Mendip Ridge. The Chew ValleyNeighbourhood Plan highlights Policy HDE15 ‘Dark Skies Policy’ which states thatlighting design should ‘minimisethe risk of light spillage beyond the development site boundary and into thewider countryside’.
6. BIO-DIVERSITY: the impact on wildlife.
Species dependent on the grassland and open corridors of Broadown Plateau, the site of the Airport, will suffer badly. The Airport has said it will provide new habitat but it takes many years for sustainable new habitats to be established. Species rich grassland and ancient hedgerows will disappear, altering the local eco-system and putting further strain on wildlife. Increased light, noise, road and air traffic will result in loss of habitat, the obliteration of green corridors, with further impact on breeding and plant systems. The effects will reach far beyond the Airport’s boundaries.
* The Silver Zone car park extension plans are less than 2 km from the Special Area of Conservation for the protected species of Greater and Lesser Horseshoe Bat.
* The new lighting in the Silver Zone repelled insects resulting in less available food for the bats, already challenged by a decline in insects through loss of pasture land. There will bea net loss of almost 4 hectares of suitable foraging habitat for these endangered bats. The bat populations may drop to a level that is unviable if the foraging areas are decimated by the Airport development and any mitigation measures have not reached sufficient maturity to provide viable foraging.
* The Silver Zone car park extension will result in a lossof biodiversity due to the change of land use from agricultural rough pasture.Air quality will diminish further due to the removal of hedgerows and trees,which also help absorb carbon and storm water.
* The Airport has not taken into account the risk from climate change, or how hotter summers, such as the summer of 2018, might impact wildlife. Creatures dependent on delicate ecosystems that have already been fragmented by Airport development will be at risk of being unable to adapt.
North Somerset Council cannot muster the expertise and resources required to evaluate this massive, complex planning application and may well accept highly questionable ‘evidence’ provided by the Airport itself to justify 50% expansion. Government aviation policy broadly supports regional airport growth at around 5% subject to local agreement.
The Airport cites passenger demand and economic benefit as the main reason to support the Very Special Circumstances case required to over-ride Green Belt regulations. This case for demand-led growth flimsy and speculative at a time when low-cost airlines are struggling for customers. It is certainly not a ‘very special circumstance’. Nor have any economic benefits of expansion been independently demonstrated. A predatory desire to pump up profits is not a ‘special circumstance’.
Nor have the economic benefits of expansion been independently demonstrated. A predatory desire to pump up profits is not a ‘special circumstance’.
North Somerset Council’s impotence in the face of Airport ambition is demonstrated by recent building developments such as the eye-sore administration block on the Silver Zone entrance from the A38.
This was erected under ‘permitted development’ granted by the Council with minimal publicity. Would you or your business have been allowed to create a similar structure in the Green Belt? North Somerset Council is giving the Airport a free hand to develop a private fiefdom.
The Airport subsidises the low-cost airlines and North Somerset Council in turn subsidises the Airport by providing infrastructure at public expense. In return for … what? The Council needs to publish hard evidence of benefits to the region and not simply reproduce the Airport’s highly questionable ‘research’.
The marginal benefits of expansion are trivial by comparison to the damage it will inflict on the residents and communities of the region. North Somerset Council must take back control of Bristol Airport – the insatiable cuckoo squatting in the North Somerset nest.
The Council should require publication and consultation of the Airport’s ‘Carbon and Climate Change Action Plan’ before considering the application for expansion. Bristol Airport states it will be carbon neutral for 2030. This only applies to the buildings and infrastructure not the carbon and other emissions from flights! The government anticipates that emission-free aircraft could be in service by 2035.