Bristol Airport claims it has no alternative to building 2,700 more parking spaces in the green belt – and North Somerset Council agrees.
Recommending approval of its major expansion plans, officers said the business case for more parking spaces clearly outweighs the harm to the unspoilt land.
The Government will have the final say if councillors give the go-ahead on February 10.
Bristol Airport wants to extend its seasonal silver zone car park with more than 2,700 spaces for year-round use and build a multi-storey car park with 2,150 bays.
It says the extra parking – a net increase of 3,900 spaces that would take the overall number to 22,600 – is a key part of its plans to boost annual passenger numbers to 12million.
The firm says its expansion will benefit the West of England’s economy to the tune of £210m. North Somerset Council’s consultants were more conservative, putting the figure between £110m and £167m.
Officers were convinced by the economic case, saying: “The year-round use of the seasonal car park and additional surface car park are inappropriate developments in the green belt, which are harmful.
“‘Very special circumstances’ do exist for these car parks being in the green belt and these clearly outweigh the harm.”
Officers recommended approval, subject to a legal agreement and planning conditions to secure the necessary transport, road and other environmental improvements, plus essential controls over matters such as noise and aircraft movements.
Their report reveals that five large sites across the West of England could have delivered much-needed parking outside of the green belt but were ruled out by the airport.
The biggest was in Severn Beach, near the M5/M49 junction. Some 4,000 cars could have parked on the 39-hectare site but South Gloucestershire Council said it was protected as employment land.
Two sites in Avonmouth that could each have taken 4,000 cars were rejected due to high costs and because they were more than 13 miles from the airport. Bristol City Council said one of them had been developed and the other was a landfill that was unsuitable as a park and ride.
A freight yard near Bristol’s Parson Street station could have accommodated 1,520 cars. Bristol City Council said it previously rejected plans for a bus depot and car park there because of major concerns about local air quality.
The airport also looked at a former quarry in North Somerset and areas of farmland near Yew Tree Farm and at Lye Cross Farm. They were discounted because – like the land it wants to expand onto – they were also in the green belt.
The only other possible site outside the green belt was near junction 21 of the M5, but Bristol Airport said it would not be a viable business.
The application has been met with 5,591 objections to date, and a petition against it has 2,190 signatures. 2,252 people have supported the plans.
A key claim from objectors was that the expansion flew in the face of the council’s climate emergency declaration.
Officers said the increased carbon emissions were unlikely to compromise the UK’s ability to meet its climate change obligations, or the council’s ambition to make North Somerset carbon neutral by 2030.
Alongside expanding its car parking, the airport wants to increase use of public transport from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent by the time it reaches the 12million-passenger mark.
The application will come before North Somerset Council’s planning and regulatory committee at the Town Hall in Weston-super-Mare at 6pm on February 10.
Stephen Sumner is a local democracy reporter for North Somerset