Thank you for your letter about the Bristol airport appeal. As someone who opposed the expansion because of its impact locally, and who gave evidence against it, I share the disappointment that is felt by many with the outcome.
Once an appeal has been determined, it is not possible for the appeal to be recovered or “called in “ by the Secretary of State. The only way in which the decision can be overturned is by an action in the High Court which would have to be on a point of law, not the merits or demerits of the decision itself. While there may be considerable pressure on the local authority (or local authorities in this case) to make such a move, they would rightly have to consider the financial impact on taxpayers if they were to lose such an action.
It is clear that the inspectors took a wide regional, and largely socio-economic view of the issue of Bristol airport expansion and have been convinced on issues such as job creation and the provision of finance from Bristol airport to mitigate local transport problems. This is despite the failure to meet planning permissions. As the inspectors report itself says in paragraph 28:
“ In 2011, BAL obtained planning permission from NSC for the major expansion of BA to accommodate 10 mppa26 (the 10 mppa permission). The permission included over 30 separate developments and was subject to a Section 106 agreement. The main obligations in that S106 required BA to: fund new and more frequent public transport services to and from the airport; provide an environmental mitigation fund; develop a skills and employment plan; make financial contributions towards strategic infrastructure projects and undertake air quality monitoring. Parts of the 10 mppa permission, most notably an additional multi-storey car park (MSCP 2) have yet to be implemented.”
The position of the airport as “the main airport for the South-West of England, providing a range of international and domestic flights” (para27) seems central to the argument. Although it is sensible to move more air traffic away from London’s congested airports (and it is both popular and sensible in reducing unnecessary travel to see more regional air transport), my own argument was that Bristol needed to be seen in the context of its own geographical location and the historical lack of transport infrastructure. Compared to many other regional airports in the UK I believe that Bristol airport is particularly poorly served by its transport network and that, because of its location (on top of a hill) it would be extremely costly and disruptive to mitigate this. I believe that trying to argue the case against Bristol airport expansion on the grounds of national environmental policy weakens the case against expansion in this particular case.
On environmental issues, the inspectors were able to take into account a number of initiatives. They set these out in paragraphs 15 to 17.
“15. On 14 July the Department for Transport (DfT) published its ‘Decarbonising Transport: A Better Greener Britain’ strategy alongside the ‘Jet Zero Consultation: A consultation on our strategy for net zero aviation , ‘Jet Zero Consultation: Evidence and Analysis’ and ‘Targeting net zero – next steps for the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation: Government response’. The parties were invited to submit an addendum to their proofs of evidence on these matters and these were discussed during the event.
16. Written representations following the Government’s publication of ‘Valuation of greenhouse gas emissions: for policy appraisal and evaluation’ dated 2 September 202114 were also submitted and discussed during the Inquiry.
17. On 22 September 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines on the health effects of air quality on humans. Parties were also invited to submit written statements on this document.”
In reaching their conclusion, the inspectors acknowledge the conflicting issues involved.
“552. The Panel has found that there is a demonstrable need for the proposed development and that, flowing from this, the socio-economic benefits of the scheme would weigh substantially in its favour. National aviation policy contained within APF and MBU also provides high level and strong policy support for airport expansion in general. Development plan policies CS23 and DM50 provide positive support for the growth and development of BA. Airport expansion is also supported at a regional level.
553. However, all of these provide support conditionally in relation to environmental effects. For the reasons explained above, the Panel have found conflict with the development plan in respect of noise effects and the Panel recognise the harmful effect this would have on the amenity and health of some local residents.
554. Other environmental effects have been assessed, including climate change, highways matters, air quality, as well as character and appearance (and the AONB), and biodiversity. These are considered to be neutral in the balance as no material harm was found, nor conflict with relevant development plan policies or other broader national policy objectives.”
In effect, the perceived socio-economic benefits for the whole of the south-west region are given priority over the problems created for local residents. Many of our local villages and towns are likely to see an increase in road traffic over the coming years as a result of this decision. Living in the village of Tickenham, as I do, I share the great disappointment that many local people are likely to face reductions in their quality of life as a consequence. I accept that for many, including many of my own constituents, the prospect of a wider range of travel destinations will be seen as a positive development, but we will have to now turn our attention to measures that will limit the impact of the inspectors decision on many of our local communities.
(The decision to grant permission was exceedingly disappointing. I do not in any way underplay the issue of climate change and, indeed, I spoke in Glasgow during Cop26 about the urgent need to tackle the issue. The Inspectors had the full range of government documents relating to climate change, including international reports available to them when they took the decision. It appears that they took the view that the economic and social interests of the South West region took precedence over other factors, as well as the need to move travel away from the heavily congested London airports which, of course, means less travel for passengers. Please see a copy of my statement.
The potential of a Judicial Review has been mentioned. North Somerset Council originally refused the planning application at its Planning and Regulatory Committee in March 2020. This decision was taken against the advice of its own planning officers. Bristol Airport submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in September 2020 and a public inquiry ran from July to October 2021. A Judicial Review can only be undertaken on a point of law and cannot be used as a means of simply reopening the debate. If NSC were to decide to go ahead with such a review, then they would be liable for any costs incurred, including the full cost of the action if they were to lose. This would clearly involve the potential loss of taxpayers’ money and so any decision would need to be carefully evaluated in the light of the legal advice given by the Council’s lawyers. It would, of course, be open to any individual or group to launch a Judicial Review but the same rules would pertain.)