Inspector at Bristol Airport expansion inquiry says views of the public will be properly taken into account
The public inquiry into the possible future expansion of Bristol airport started on 22nd July and is expected to last for 10 weeks. There are concerns, as at many inquiries, that the views of the public will not be taken into account, and not fully considered. Campaigners have warned that ignoring thousands of comments opposing the expansion of Bristol Airport, from residents and others, would damage public trust and threaten the integrity of local democracy. However, planning inspector Phillip Ware said: “We’ve read an enormous amount of written material that’s come in from people for and against. We’ve obviously got a lot of people appearing at the inquiry in person and virtually. It is absolutely not a tick-box exercise. We will be dealing with the public views in our decision whichever way the decision goes.” Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “Local democracy thoroughly considered the airport’s plans and decided against them and despite this the airport has now ignored these voices and called for this appeal. Now not only does that threaten to override local democracy, it also threatens the efforts that local communities and councils are trying to take to address the climate crisis themselves.”
Public views on Bristol Airport expansion won’t fall on deaf ears, inspectors confirm
Heartfelt pleas and reasoned arguments were heard in the first week of the inquiry
By Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter (Somerset Live)
29 JUL 2021
Ignoring thousands of comments on the expansion of Bristol Airport would damage public trust and threaten the integrity of local democracy, campaigners have warned.
Impassioned residents and expert witnesses have clocked up more than 24 hours of testimonies since the 10-week inquiry opened last week.
The planning inspectors hearing the appeal have given assurances it will not be a “tick-box” exercise and said the verbal and written submissions will be taken into account when they decide to uphold or overturn North Somerset Council’s decision.
The airport – which wants to boost passenger numbers from 10million to 12million a year – has complained it was treated unfairly by the authority and put to substantial cost by its “wrong and unreasonable” behaviour.
Speaking at the inquiry, Butcombe resident John Adams from the Stop Bristol Airport Expansion campaign group said: “This planning application and now the appeal against its refusal has aroused widespread public interest in deep passion.
“We can find little reassurance that there is a sound transparent mechanism through which public opinion articulated so widely over many months will play a significant role in the decision-making process.
“Evidence of the weight of public opinion is very material to the decisions of this inquiry and should therefore play a major role in the decision-making process.
“Without transparency it’s difficult to sway to scepticism expressed in some quarters who see this inquiry or might see this inquiry as a bureaucratic tick-box exercise designed to reign in the willful and unruly tendencies of local democracy.
“If this inquiry were simply a technical exercise the guidelines and the extensive expensive consultation will be revealed as a simple cosmetic.
“This will constitute a major and cynical abuse of public trust in the planning procedure with wider implications for the integrity of local democracy.”
Planning inspector Phillip Ware replied: “We’ve read an enormous amount of written material that’s come in from people for and against. We’ve obviously got a lot of people appearing at the inquiry in person and virtually.
“It is absolutely not a tick-box exercise.
“We will be dealing with the public views in our decision whichever way the decision goes.”
Here are some of the most powerful comments from the first week of the inquiry.
The number of speakers for and against mirrors the comments on the planning application – 2,431 in favour and 8,931 against.
In support of the expansion
John Sweeney from the union Unite, which represents airport staff, said: “Since Covid has taken away so many jobs we’re looking at the positives now. This is a positive story – the estimate is going to be over 700 direct jobs if the expansion goes ahead and it could be up to 5,000 indirect jobs. It should be a massive boost for the local economy.”
Bristol Chamber of Commerce chief exec James Durie said: “Constraining this region’s main airport risks cutting business off from the world or forcing them to use airports outside the region, putting the region at a competitive disadvantage.
“We know there is much more to do right across the aerospace and aviation sectors which have a major footprint in this region but also have major ambitions and continuing investment to do just this.
“We do not think an ad hoc decision to limit aviation capacity only at Bristol Airport by one local authority is the right way to proceed.
“A decision to limit or reduce flying should be taken by national government as part of a broader democratic process alongside a coherent national carbon reduction plan.”
John Mayer from the Federation of Small Businesses said: “At a time when being open for business has never been more important, supporting the sustainable growth of our regional gateway will send a strong signal that we continue to welcome trade tourism and investment from overseas to the benefit of the SME owners across every sector we represent.
“Additional opportunities provided by an expansion of the airport’s capacity for trade investment and tourism in the region and the 5,000 new jobs that will be created must be given appropriate weight.”
Representing the airport, Michael Humphries QC said: “Bristol Airport Ltd feels that it has been treated unfairly by the planning system and put to substantial cost and that North Somerset Council’s behaviour has been both wrong and indeed unreasonable.”
He said: “The government has made clear the importance it attaches to airports and their expansion. The merits of government policy are not a matter of debate for this local planning inquiry.
“To artificially restrict the ability of individuals to fly by deliberately constraining capacity as some have suggested would have profound implications in a free society.”
He added: “The concerns of North Somerset Council and other parties [about carbon emissions] are unfounded. Indeed, much of the evidence simply seeks to mount an attack on government policy or speculate as to what future policy may be.”
Arguments against the expansion
Chew Magna teacher Jenny Denny said: “I have no doubt that when William Wilberforce stood up in parliament and condemned the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, many politicians decried his plans to abolish slavery as economic suicide.
“They were wrong. Sometimes the right decision has to be made.
“[Bristol Airport owner] The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund’s quest for ever-increasing profits will be paid for by our children, the local community and the planet.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “Local democracy thoroughly considered the airport’s plans and decided against them and despite this the airport has now ignored these voices and called for this appeal.
“Now not only does that threaten to override local democracy, it also threatens the efforts that local communities and councils are trying to take to address the climate crisis themselves.
“If expansion goes ahead, what kind of message does that send to the public who are already trying their best to contribute to climate mitigation but confused by the conflicting signals that have been given out?”
Grandmother-of-three Caroline New: “Even if it’s finally decided that the airport’s appeal meets current legal standards, morally it represents a cynical betrayal of the interests of children alive today and of generations to come.”
Phil Heath, the chair of governors at Chew Valley School, said: “Many of the pupils live close to the airport, many have their sleep spoiled by noise from the aeroplanes, many cannot cycle along the country lanes that are used as rat runs to get to the airport.
“Many of the children are terrified of the prospect of climate change, and yet the children struggle to have their voices heard.
“Pupils at Chew Valley School are taught to respect democracy and democratic decisions, they’re taught to act responsibly even when it’s difficult to do so, and they’re taught to look at the reality behind glib proposals that are too good to be true – Bristol Airport could follow their example.”
Felton resident Abbi Williams said: “I don’t know how I’d have a good night’s sleep again if it [the number of night flights] increases.
“The amount of vehicles going through the village has just increased exponentially over the last few years. There are lanes I won’t walk down any more because it’s just too dangerous with cars careering around.
“Taxi drivers park in people’s driveways, they defecate in people’s driveways.
“The airport parking has been awful in the last few years. Some villagers are very angry and damage the cars.
“It’s not overdramatic to say it impacts on our everyday life.”
The inquiry continues.
The sessions are being recorded and can be seen on YouTube, recorded by North Somerset County Council – for example
Bristol Airport Planning Inquiry (Day 7 – Thursday 29 July 2021, Afternoon Session)
and others can be found on YouTube of the other sessions.
Start of Inquiry into refusal by North Somerset Council of Bristol Airport plans to expand by 2mppa
The public inquiry into Bristol Airport’s expansion proposal began on 20th July with the airport hoping to overturn North Somerset Council’s decision to refuse the expansion plans in February 2020. The inquiry is overseen by the Planning Inspectorate, and is scheduled to run until mid-October with three independent inspectors appointed to consider the airport’s appeal. The airport wants to be allowed to have an extra 2 million annual passengers, from 10 million to 12 million. In its recently-published Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), the DfT committed itself to achieving net zero within the aviation sector by 2050. Allowing airport expansion scheme is not going to help with that – quite the reverse. The worry is that, though the various expansion schemes for Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Leeds Bradford and Southampton – taken separately – look relatively small, collectively (and including Heathrow) the increase in carbon would be huge. The recent TDP does not follow the recommendation from its official advisors, the CCC, that any airport expansion should be offset by reducing flights elsewhere.
Bristol Airport expansion (for 2 mppa more) public inquiry to will start on July 20th, for 10 weeks
The expansion plans would see passenger numbers grow from 10 million to 12 million a year. The public inquiry into the expansion plans is due to start on July 20 and last 10 weeks. The airport appealed against a decision by North Somerset Council last year to reject its expansion plans. Bristol City Council has also opposed the expansion with North Somerset Council saying it will ‘robustly defend’ the appeal. The inquiry will be held in person and online, via Teams, though requests had been made for it to be online only, due to Covid. Campaigners say any expansion of the airport would lead to higher carbon emissions, congested roads and more plane noise. A number of campaign groups including the Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) , the Parish Councils Airport Association and Stop Bristol Airport Expansion (SBAE) are all set to give evidence at the inquiry. The Planning Inspectorate team will be led by Philip Ware.