There has been outcry across local government in the west after the High Court ruled that Bristol Airport could expand — against the wishes of the local council.

North Somerset Council, in whose borders the airport is located, refused planning permission for the airport to expand in 2020 but the decision was overturned by the planning inspectorate.

Campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) appealed with the hearing taking place in Bristol in November — but on January 31, the High Court handed down their judgement that the expansion could go ahead.

Steve Bridger, the leader of North Somerset Council, took to Twitter to say he stood by his decision to vote against the airport’s expansion. But he added: “Since I became Leader of (North Somerset Council) last May, it has been a priority of mine to reset our relationship with the airport. We have done that.

“That said, we will continue to hold them to account to deliver on their promises and planning commitments to reducing the carbon impact of the airport operation, especially around non-car travel to the airport, and the promises of the airline industry to decarbonise.”

Deputy leader Mike Bell also took to Twitter to condemn the decision. He said: “Neither infinite growth of the Bristol Airport site nor of air travel is sustainable. Something must change.

“No policy that simply wishes that away can be justified, no matter what the government or High Court say.”

North Somerset Times: Protestors outside Bristol Civil Justice Centre while the hearing was happening in November.Protestors outside Bristol Civil Justice Centre while the hearing was happening in November. (Image: John Wimperis)

Portishead councillor John Cato added: “This is simply unsustainable and unconscionable.”

But the outcry has extended beyond North Somerset. Wera Hobhouse, the MP for the nearby city of Bath, slammed the decision saying: “This ruling ignores the climate emergency and undermines democratic decision-making. One of the key issues at stake is the degradation of our environment, our quality of life and our wellbeing.”

She added: “The unwelcome High Court ruling underlines the urgent need for a complete revision of airport policy at the national level.”

Bath and North East Somerset Council’s deputy leader Sarah Warren spoke at the planning meeting, where permission was originally refused, and at the first appeal hearing. She called the High Court’s decision “deeply disappointing”.

She said: “Local communities, along with almost all local MPs, local authorities and civil groups, have been united in calling for this excessive airport expansion to be halted, yet these voices have been overruled, completely undermining local democracy.

“[Bath and North East Somerset] opposed airport expansion and we remain steadfast in our opposition.”

She added: “BAAN, local groups and individuals have shown such courage and integrity in the fight against this expansion. We will work with them, other councils and partner organisations as we address the inevitable damage and fallout which will come from this decision.”

The West of England’s Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: “[Mr] 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 for ever.”

But Bristol Airport says that sustainability is part of their expansion plans and they want the airport to be net zero by 2030.

CEO David Lees said: “The decision is excellent news for our region’s economy, allowing us to create up to 5,000 new jobs, deliver more international destinations for the South West and South Wales, and invest hundreds of millions of pounds improving the customer experience.

“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.”

Campaigners 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.

He added: “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.”