Bristol Airport expansion plans rejected

“It is a real ‘David and Goliath’ story”. North Somerset Council has voted to reject planning permission for Bristol Airport to increase its capacity to 12 million passengers a year in what is a significant victory for anti-expansion campaigners.

Bristol Airport expansion
Bristol Airport expansion

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Green World

The planning application to expand Bristol Airport has been rejected by North Somerset Council in a victory for campaigners.

In a debate at a special Planning and Regulatory Committee meeting last night (10 February), a motion was proposed by Councillor Steve Hogg to reject the expansion, with 18 councillors voting for the motion versus seven against with one abstention.

Bristol Airport currently handles 8.9 million passengers a year with an upper limit of 10 million, which Bristol Airport wanted to expand to 12 million passengers and build a new car park and transport hub.

The expansion was supported by North Somerset Council planning officers, Bristol City Council and leading trade union Unite on the basis that it would bring jobs and boost the local economy.

Following the passing of the motion, Councillor Don Davies, Leader of North Somerset Council, said: “What the committee has considered is that the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to airport expansion.”

Since the rejection of the planning application went against the recommendation of the council’s planning officers, the decision will have to be ratified at a future meeting of the Planning and Regulatory Committee. If ratified Bristol Airport will have six months to lodge an appeal, which would then be heard at a public inquiry.

Despite the rejection, Councillor Davies made clear that the opposition to the airport expansion on environmental and societal grounds is not set in stone, adding: “I know some people will be upset by this decision and I am sure that we can reconsider it in future when the airline industry has decarbonised and the public transport links to the airport are far stronger.”

Victory for campaigners

In the meantime, the refusal of the planning application has been greeted by local campaigners, residents and councillors in Bristol, Somerset and South Gloucestershire who strongly opposed the expansion on the basis that it was incompatible with local climate emergency commitments.


Bristol, this is brilliant! A huge majority of councillors who recognise that a #ClimateEmergency must mean an end to airport expansion.
Destroyed habitats are lost for ever, as we will soon discover with #HS2

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 11, 2020

Both Bristol City Council and North Somerset Council have declared climate emergencies, committing to going carbon neutral by 2030, and the expansion application was met with 8,800 public objections and 2,400 messages of support.

The climate emergency commitments were a key part of the rejection, with Councillor John Ley-Morgan, who seconded Councillor Hogg’s proposal, saying: “How can we achieve our ambition for carbon neutrality by 2030 if we approve this decision?”

A number of actions have been undertaken in protest at the plans for expansion, including people burying their head in the sand on Weston-super-Mare beach and ‘go slow’ cycle protests at the airport.

At the end of the council meeting, Tarisha Finnegan-Clarke, Coordinator of Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), one of the key campaigning organisations in the campaign against expansion, said: “I ask Bristol Airport to accept the result and not appeal against it. 83 per cent of North Somerset residents who commented have objected to the expansion and the planning committee has thrown out the application. Be respectful of the democratic process and do not appeal.

“Many people involved in BAAN, local Extinction Rebellion groups, Parish Councils and other local groups have been working incredibly hard to achieve this result for over a year now. I am so pleased that the local councillors have listened to the community and rejected this application”.

Huge news! @NorthSomersetC votes 18-7 to #StopBristolAirportExpansion.

A victory for the planet, local communities & people everywhere. People power CAN halt mindless growth & corporate greed✊

Still needs to be ratified- keep the pressure on.

Huge thanks to all campaigners!

— Bristol Green Party (@bristolgreen) February 10, 2020

Green councillors on Bristol City Council have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the airport expansion, holding Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees to account over his support for the plan despite Bristol’s carbon emission reduction targets, and organising a march through Bristol city centre on 31 January attended by Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack.

On 14 January, Green Councillor Steve Clarke, leader of the Green group on Bristol City Council, pressed Mayor Rees to verify his previous claims that Bristol was not a major stakeholder in the airport plans, before asking the Mayor to withdraw his support for the expansion, with Rees declining to do so.

Carla Denyer and Amelia Womack at the anti-airport expansion march.
Councillor Carla Denyer and Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack at the Bristol Airport expansion protest march.

Councillor Carla Denyer also challenged the Mayor on his support for expansion, noting that analysis suggests that the expansion will benefit the wealthiest 10 per cent of the population at the expense of those that will be affected by climate change.

Commenting on the rejection of the planning application, Steve Clarke said: "This is a fantastic result of hard work and real cooperation amongst campaigners and residents. It is a real ‘David and Goliath’ story as, on the one side is a £200 billion Canadian pension fund who own the airport, and on the other is a crowd-funded campaign and lots of hard work by ordinary but committed people."