Bristol Airport expansion decision to go to High Court


Campaigners opposed to the expansion of Bristol Airport are taking their battle to the High Court.

Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) has raised more than £20,000 to appeal the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to allow the expansion.

It would see the airport increase its capacity from ten million to 12 million passengers per year.

Airport bosses say it will provide a boost for the economy and create thousands of new jobs.

Government planning inspectors granted permission on appeal in February after the plans were rejected by North Somerset Council in 2020 on environmental grounds.

BAAN believes the expansion will be damaging for local people and the environment, citing a rise in road traffic, increased noise and air pollution and an “inevitable rise in carbon emissions”.

Stephen Clarke, from the group, said: “This decision is so damaging for the local people and the climate that it simply cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.”

The group used crowd funding to raise the money to pay for legal costs to support its appeal.

Tarisha Finnegan-Clarke, from BAAN’s coordinating committee, said the expansion was “not wanted, nor is it needed”.

“We contest this outrageous decision on behalf of the local residents whose lives are already blighted by the airport and the many parish, town and city councils that have declared climate emergencies and have written statements of opposition throughout the process.”

The planning inspectorate said at the time it recognised the “major disappointment” campaigners would have, but the benefits would outweigh the harm to green belt land.

A number of local officials and MPs, including Liam Fox and Wera Hobhouse, criticised the decision to overrule the council after a three month enquiry.

However, North Somerset Council has said that it will not pursue a legal challenge to the ruling.

For campaigners, this is a fight for the future of the planet. But many of them are experienced lawyers, and they know they must win their battle in the dry, logical reasoning of the High Court.

They can’t simply re-state their case that more flying means more climate change. They must persuade judges the planning inspectors made specific, legal mistakes in the way they made their decision.

North Somerset Council’s lawyers have been through that decision, and didn’t see enough to overturn it.

For councillors then, it is too much of a risk for local tax-payers money.

And at the heart of this local planning decision, is a big national principle.

Inspectors pointed out there is “no policy which seeks to limit airport expansion” nationally, and so to do so just at Bristol Airport would be unfair.

Reversing that judgment will be hard, but the campaigners believe they can do it.

We are still some way from Bristol Airport’s plans being cleared for take off.

Council leader Don Davies said they had “reluctantly” accepted legal advice that a challenge would carry a high level of risk and result in “significant further costs”.

“A legal challenge through the High Court can only be successful if the inspectors can be shown to have erred in law.

“Unfortunately our disagreement with the inspectors’ conclusions on the planning merits is not a relevant ground for challenge,” said Mr Davies.

He said that even if the decision was quashed, it was highly likely that a follow-up planning permission would be granted.

“We cannot justify risking more public money on a process that is unlikely to change anything.

“Therefore sadly we have reluctantly accepted the legal advice we have been given and with very heavy hearts have concluded not to take the case to court,” added Mr Davies.

Bristol Airport’s chief executive Dave Lees said the expansion would help to reduce the millions of road journeys made to London airports each year and that they would work with the community “to deliver sustainable growth”.