I totally respect the fact that people (especially politicians from different parties) are entitled to hold different views. However, when those opinions are written down, for example in an article for this publication, then they really need to be fact-checked before the author goes to print. Cllr Barry Clark’s article ‘Bristol Airport is far More Complicated than a Soundbite’ unfortunately does not seem to have gone through this process.
To recap from my previous article on this subject; Bristol Airport has submitted a planning application to expand passenger numbers from the current eight million passengers a year to 12 million, and the longer term vision is to grow to 20 million a year. The initial expansion alone will mean a whacking 23,800 extra planes a year arriving at the airport (according to the airports own website).
So what about the supposed benefits from this? In his article, Cllr Clark says there will be ‘10,000 new jobs at the airport’; unfortunately the correct total figure for the region (as stated on the airport’s own website) is only 1,000. He also implies that many of these jobs will be from wards in South Bristol like his own. In fact, the airport’s own economic impact assessment report within the planning documents says there will be a paltry ‘90 additional jobs in South Bristol’. I’m sure they would be very welcome but its a long way from the claimed 10,000.
Cllr Clarke says that the expansion will bring ‘£3bn of economic benefit’; again an exaggeration, the actual figure the airport quote is £1.4bn. This is still a significant amount of money but what about the health cost to people in Bristol? Lung disease alone in the UK costs the NHS an enormous £11bn a year.
He says that Green Party Councillors (including presumably me) ‘don’t understand how left behind we feel [in south Bristol]’. This rather misses the fact that I represent and live in Southville, which is a ward in south Bristol.
In addition and very importantly in my view; he neglects to mention that the extra 23,800 planes per year will often be approaching the airport over south Bristol. They will therefore be exposing Bristol citizens near the flight paths, including those in his ward of Hengrove and Whitchurch Park, to additional air pollution in the form of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, lead and black carbon. This will inevitably add to the 300 Bristolians who already die an early death from our toxic air.
My basic position is that I want the airport to remain a regional hub rather than expanding because I am desperately worried about the extra carbon emissions and other pollution that will be produced by the extra planes and extra car journeys to get to the airport. The planned extra flights also make a total mockery of Bristol’s ambition to be carbon-neutral by 2030; especially when the much greater carbon-impact of flights at higher atmospheric levels is taken into account. In addition, even as I write this, North Somerset Council (home of the airport) have declared a Climate Emergency and also adopted a target of carbon neutrality by 2030. Well done and great news, but I’m not sure how they are going to square that with 23,800 extra flights a year.
The main point is that the extra rubbish in our air is simply not worth the supposed benefits offered. Mayor Rees, Cllr. Clark and the rest of Bristol’s Labour administration should join us and campaign against the airport expansion immediately. Just the other day, thousands of young people around the UK went on strike over the climate crisis. We must take our lead from them – at the very least we have to stop making policy decisions that will actively make things worse.
Now to briefly move on to some of the wider political issues Cllr. Clark raises in his article. He says that Greens haven’t supported the Council Tax Reduction Scheme; this is just wrong. In 2017 it was actually the Labour administration which planned to cut this vital support, a regressive proposal which would have amounted to a tax on the poorest people in the city. It was campaigning by Green Councillors and the renters’ union ACORN that forced Labour to U-turn on this issue at a full council meeting.
Greens flatly refused to vote for Labour’s austerity budget in 2018. As Cllr. Clark is well aware, councillors aren’t able to pick and choose separate parts of the budget to vote on. Therefore, despite some welcome elements in the budget proposal, we just could not in all conscience support more than £30m of cuts to frontline services in Bristol, including adult social care, public health, parks, and children’s services. Many of those cuts, voted through by Labour councillors last February, are yet to have their full impact on services in the city.
Incidentally this budget also included £5m in cuts to the special needs budget, which was obscured from councillors at the time and later ruled as illegal by a high court judge.
Readers of this article might have come to the conclusion that it is the Labour administration that is dealing in ‘soundbites’ -and unfortunately not very accurate ones.
Stephen Clarke in a Green Party councillor.