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NORTH SOMERSET: Airport inquiry closes

NORTH SOMERSET: Airport inquiry closes

North Somerset Council barrister Reuben Taylor.

Bristol Airport has branded North Somerset Council “hostile” to the firm and its expansion bid after claims it put profit before residents’ wellbeing. 

The authority’s barrister, Reuben Taylor, said allowing millions more passengers a year to pass through the transport hub would affect thousands more local people with significant impacts on climate change and the green belt.

In closing submissions to a 36-day public inquiry he said the scheme was unacceptable and unlawful and urged the planning inspectors to send a message to airport operators that they do not have a licence to expand.

Representing Bristol Airport Ltd (BAL), Michael Humphries refuted the council’s “unfair” allegations and said the expansion – raising the cap from 10million to 12million annual passengers – was driven by demand for flights and would bring jobs and cash to the region.

The firm lodged an appeal after North Somerset councillors refused planning permission for the expansion by 18 votes to seven last year.

Attacking BAL as “self-important” and “close-minded”, Mr Taylor told the final day of the inquiry on October 8: “For all the warm words it puts into print, this inquiry has revealed that BAL is a company that puts the pursuit of profit before the wellbeing of the people its operations affect.

“We are in a new world now, a world where a 1990s type approach to airport expansion no longer has weight; a world where responsible growth is required by government as a condition of expansion.”

He added: “It is time to send a message to airport operators like BAL who consider themselves to have a licence to grow. They do not.

“The small economic benefit which the proposed development would deliver just £10million a year doesn’t come close to justify the sleepless nights for thousands living around the airport or the harm to health and quality of life that would be visited on them.

“This is the wrong development proposed in the wrong location proposed at the wrong time.

“It would be unlawful to grant planning permission for the proposed development and it is in any event a scheme which is entirely unacceptable.

“On behalf of North Somerset Council we ask you to refuse planning permission.”

As well as being refused by North Somerset Council, the expansion has been opposed by Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, the West of England Combined Authority and numerous parish councils.

In his closing submissions, Parish Council Airport Association barrister Brendon Moorhouse said the impact on local residents is already unacceptable when 8.9million passengers are using the airport each year.

He said: “The local communities are made up of people that are living with their family’s cemeteries being used as toilets, with cars being abandoned for weeks at a time in their villages and country lanes, while people choose not to pay any parking fee at all when they go on holiday, or noise created day and night with traffic passing through sometimes at speed to get to the airport.

“The failure by the appellant to address the real-world impact of growth on surrounding communities and surface access infrastructure strongly weighs against allowing this appeal.”

Representing the Bristol Airport Action Network, Estelle Dehon said: “On the opening day of the inquiry and throughout its long weeks it has been evident the extent to which this proposed expansion is opposed by local people. It is also remarkable the extent to which it is opposed by the elected representatives at all levels.

“That tells an incredibly important story in a time of economic hardship. With post-Covid recovery high on the political agenda and uppermost in people’s minds, the overwhelming majority of local people and their political representatives are not asking you to approve the expansion – they are asking the opposite.”

Speaking on behalf of the XR Elders, Liz Beth said changing attitudes to flying due to greenhouse gas emissions and Covid-19 could mean the airport does not hit its current cap of 10million annual passengers until 2030.

“As the benefits of the proposal become more distant and less certain, harm to the green belt and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is even harder to justify in terms of being in the public interest,” she said.

BAL has insisted the pandemic will be a “short term issue” and there remains an “acute need” to provide additional capacity at Bristol Airport.

Mr Humphries said the expansion was driven by demand from millions of people who want to fly and “nothing could be further from the truth” than the council’s “unfair” claim it put profits before people’s wellbeing.

He told the inquiry: “Bristol Airport is a regional airport that is grounded in its local and wider communities. It’s absolutely focused on sharing the benefits of growth and appropriately mitigating its effects.

“These unfair allegations are firmly rejected. What they reveal is interesting.

“Such serious allegations against an applicant can only be made under instruction. The allegations reveal that members are not only hostile to the application, but hostile to the applicant itself.”

The arguments will be weighed up by the panel of inspectors Philip Ware, Claire Searson and Dominic Young.

They will then issue a decision letter with their conclusions and reasons for allowing or dismissing the appeal, as appropriate.

Once the appeal has been decided there is no further right of appeal. The decision can only be challenged in a court of law by requesting a judicial review.

There will be further hearings next week to consider BAL’s application to compulsorily purchase land linked to the expansion.

Words: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter


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