Public health doctors argue the case against expanding Bristol’s Airport

28.5.2009   (This is Bristol)

Expanding Bristol Airport – will it be good for the city?   Bristol’s Public Health
doctors faced this question in 2006 during the consultation about more flights
and expanded facilities.

The health of people in Bristol depends on many things, including a thriving
economy, the quality of the places we live in, education for our children, the
food we eat, opportunities for safe enjoyable physical activity, a fair and peaceful
society, and so on.   So as Public Health specialists we needed to look carefully
at all the issues.

We all knew that expansion at Bristol Airport was said to be essential because
it would create jobs and because everyone supposedly wants to fly more.   But the
downside was becoming harder to ignore.

It will increase the amount of aircraft noise and the volume of traffic and congestion
through local communities. This will damage health, wellbeing and education for
a sizeable proportion of those living nearby.

We knew that the health damage from noise, heavy traffic, and climate change
were well backed by evidence.

But we wanted to be certain that we were not overlooking potential positive effects
on health from new jobs, and from more people on low incomes being able to holiday

We looked at evidence from a study in Luton, and discovered that it is not the
people on low incomes who are mostly using cheap flights. We also looked carefully
at the reports that had been written on possible economic effects if Bristol Airport
were to expand. These were the Tym Report, carried out for Bristol International
Airport in October 2005, and the Whitelegg Report, done for the Parish Councils
and Friends of the Earth in October 2005. They looked at trends and forecasts,
and made different predictions about economic growth, about jobs at the airport,
in the supply chain for the airport, from inbound tourism, and from construction.

They also suggested there would be losses to the South West economy if more tourists
use cheap flights to go away for weekends and holidays.

We were surprised to find that the predictions of economic benefit in the Tym
report were reached by pretty much ignoring the impending energy crunch, oil price
rises, future green taxes, changes in business behaviour to reduce carbon footprints,
and the impacts of recession.

The University of the West of England report for Business West, published in
January 2008 after our submission, also seemed to overlook these looming restraints
on growth.

The fact that these matters were ignored led us to feel any possible health benefits
from the economic impacts of airport expansion were actually very uncertain.

Our group concluded that on health grounds the damage from airport expansion
would definitely outweigh the possible benefits. We submitted our conclusions,
from the West of England Public Health Climate Change Group, to North Somerset
Council, on December 18, 2006 as part of the consultation.

Two years on, and the International Energy Agency has advised governments to
prepare for inevitable and irreversible decline in world oil production. The Government’s
Stern Report has also said long-term economic damage from ‘business as usual’
and runaway climate change will be massively worse than the short-term economic
cost of changing to a low-carbon economy.

The business case for airport expansion is now looking very shaky. Passenger
numbers are down and people are looking closer to home for their holidays.

Airport bosses argue that more facilities at Bristol will create jobs and help
get us out of the recession.   But others say that new jobs must be in sectors
with a future – such as renewable energy, local food production and local recreation.

The Bristol International Airport company has no responsibility for impacts beyond
their own short-term profits. It is their job to try to persuade us expansion
will be good for Bristol.

But as Public Health specialists we take a broader view and our conclusion is
that expanding the airport will do more harm than good for Bristol people.

Dr Angela E Raffle B Sc (Hons) MB ChB FFPH on behalf of the West of England Public
Health Climate Change Group