West of England mayor back anti-expansion airport protestors

Dan Norris has called for more to be done on the plans

Dan Norris has called for more to be done on the plans - Credit: LDRS

The West of England mayor is urging the Government to join up its response to the proposed expansion of up to 20 regional airports after campaigners against Bristol’s won an initial High Court ruling.

Dan Norris says that while he has no power over the issue, he has “moral imperative to lead on this” and is backing calls for the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, to end the current piecemeal approach where each airport’s plans are considered separately.

It comes after campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) mounted a legal challenge against a decision by planning inspectors from Mr Gove’s government department to allow the airport’s project to go ahead.

A High Court judge ruled that the protesters have a case that should be heard at a planning statutory review.

If they succeed in court, it could quash the view of the Planning Inspectorate at a public inquiry to uphold the airport’s appeal and overturn the original refusal by North Somerset Council in 2020 for a new terminal, increasing passenger numbers from 9 million to 12 million a year.

Campaigners believe it could also set a precedent for other airports.

Speaking to BBC Radio Bristol’s John Darvall, Labour’s Mr Norris, who leads the West of England Combined Authority (Weca), reiterated his opposition to the airport’s expansion.

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He said: “If you believe there is a climate emergency, and I certainly do believe that, we have to make decisions about how we deal with that, and that does not mean expanding airports, it means that the national Government has to take the lead because they have to coordinate all the different airports.

“At the moment, the reason this became difficult was because it wasn’t joined up and we need the Government to step up to the plate and deal with this.”

Bristol Airport Action Network campaigners

Bristol Airport Action Network campaigners - Credit: BAAN

Asked by a listener on Monday (May 16) whether he would urge Mr Gove to consider the cumulative impact of all the current regional airports’ expansion plans as a whole rather than on a case-by-case basis under the planning system, he said: “I will certainly support calling in and talking about this to Michael Gove.

“I have already had discussions with him about this. Michael Gove is an influential Conservative minister, frankly, so he is a key person in this.

“It does come under his remit but it’s more complicated than that because [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps will be involved obviously.

“I’ve always said that the people are ahead of the politicians on this. I read a shocking piece of information that the amount of CO2 emissions that would come from Bristol Airport if it were to expand is more than one-and-a-half times all the CO2 emissions from the whole of the city of Bristol in every form.

“It is a hugely polluting business and we can’t duck that.”

Mr Norris agreed that emissions from aeroplanes in future would be less harmful, adding: “But they can’t come soon enough.

“We’ve got a net zero target and we are serious about trying to achieve that, and that means we can’t allow even more CO2 emissions from our airports. It’s as blunt as that.”

The High Court hearing will take place later this year after the judge ruled BAAN, a coalition of residents’ groups and environmentalists, “raised arguable grounds which merit consideration by the court”.

BAAN told the court it believed the planning inspectors made “errors of law” by not taking into account the full environmental impact, particularly around CO2 emissions, of an increase in flights and capacity at the airport.

The group also made a case around bats being displaced by the expansion and that the plans could breach the Government’s legal duty to comply with the Climate Change Act.

A successful ruling would quash the planning permission and send the case back to the Planning Inspectorate, but without the alleged “errors of law”.

Following the recent High Court judgement that there should be a hearing, a Bristol Airport spokesperson said it would continue to defend its planning permission.