North Somerset councillors went against the advice of their own planning officers as they refused permission for Bristol Airport to expand.
It was a David versus Goliath battle that saw local campaigners come up against the might of the airport, which is owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.
The airport’s expansion would have boosted passenger numbers from ten million to 12 million a year, with bosses wanting to build a new car park and transport hub.
The application had almost 9,000 objections from members of the public and 2,400 messages of support; with councillors on Monday evening voting 18-7, with one abstention, to reject it.
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The battle is not yet over, however, with airport bosses likely to consider whether to appeal the decision or submit new plans.
A Bristol Airport spokesperson said that they were “disappointed” by the decision of North Somerset Council’s Planning & Regulatory Committee.
They said: “This decision risks putting the brakes on the region’s economy by turning away airlines who want to serve the South West market, shutting the door to international trade and tourism at a time when the UK needs to show it is open for business.
“By preventing Bristol Airport from meeting demand for air travel from within the region it serves, the Council will simply exacerbate the situation which already sees millions of passengers a year form our region drive to London airports in order to fly, creating carbon emissions and congestion in the process.”
Recommending approval, North Somerset officers said the business case for more parking spaces clearly outweighed the harm to the unspoilt land.
But Wrington councillor Steve Hogg said there was a “total imbalance” between the economic benefits that go to the airport, and the burden on residents in terms of health and social costs.
He told the planning meeting: “This will fundamentally damage the relationship between this council and residents for years to come.
“I want to propose in the strongest possible terms we vote against the officers’ recommendation and refuse permission.”
Challenging the officers’ suggestion that local authorities have little control over emissions from airports, Hogg added:: “We have direct control over the future emissions – we do that by turning down this application.”
Councillor John Ley-Morgan seconded the proposal, saying: “How can we achieve our ambition for carbon neutrality by 2030 if we approve this decision?”
Stephen Sumner is a local democracy for Bristol. Main photo by Stephen Sumner