The region’s leaders are set to make a dramatic U-turn and formally oppose Bristol Airport’s expansion, it can be revealed.
Metro mayor Dan Norris is tabling a motion at a special meeting of the West of England Combined Authority’s (Weca’s) joint committee, which he leads, that would scrap its previous endorsement of the plans.
Labour’s Mr Norris, who succeeded Conservative Tim Bowles at May’s local elections, is calling on the leaders of the four local councils who sit with him on the committee – Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) and North Somerset – to “show moral leadership” on the climate emergency and vote in favour.
It looks set to be approved after B&NES Lib Dem leader Cllr Kevin Guy, who is seconding the motion, and North Somerset Council’s leader, independent Cllr Don Davies, said they would back it.
It is not known how South Gloucestershire Council’s Tory leader Cllr Toby Savage or Bristol’s Labour mayor Marvin Rees will vote at the meeting on Tuesday, 21st September.
Both recently championed the airport’s claim at a business breakfast that it would become net zero by 2030, although this does not include aeroplane emissions.
But the joint committee decision will be by a majority vote of the five members, so the motion will be carried if Mr Norris and Cllrs Guy and Davies support it as expected.
This would follow the lead of B&NES and Bristol City councils which passed motions in 2019 and 2020 respectively opposing the expansion.
However, it may have little bearing on the current public inquiry into the airport’s appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against North Somerset Council’s decision to refuse permission for the proposed increase in passengers from 10million to 12million a year.
Mr Norris said: “We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity emergency. The vast majority of people across North Somerset, Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire know this and are rightly extremely concerned.
“Regrettably some politicians are still to catch up with local public opinion.
“The global pandemic has drastically shrunk the amount of air traffic.
“Meanwhile extreme climate emergency events are seeing super high temperatures, fires, floods and melting sea ice around our fragile planet.
“I believe these deeply concerning phenomena have fundamentally changed the way most of us think about air travel now and in the future.
“We need to remember Bristol Airport has not hit its previous passenger targets. So now is certainly not the time to seek to expand Bristol Airport’s flight numbers even further.
“That is why I am seeking to change the West of England Combined Authority’s official position.
“Our region is justifiably proud we have set ourselves a really ambitious net zero CO2 target by 2030. But unless we show moral leadership now, when it comes to the airport’s proposed further expansion, our net zero objectives will be seen to be a sham.”
He said initial indications were not positive that all four of the region’s council leaders would back the motion.
But Mr Norris said: “I am an optimist and believe people can shift their positions. So I’m calling on the local leaders to show moral leadership and courage and do what is right.”
Cllr Davies said he would “wholeheartedly support” the motion once he had clarification that it referred to opposition of the existing proposed expansion being considered by the planning inspector.
It is understood this will be confirmed at the meeting.
Cllr Guy said: “Airport expansion is fundamentally incompatible with local councils’ commitment to tackling the climate emergency.
“Not only would it increase emissions from flights but travel to the airport is likely to cause traffic chaos due to inadequate public transport options.
“If this expansion were to go ahead, it would render all local efforts to reduce emissions redundant. Every ton of carbon saved would be simply replaced by the airport.
“B&NES Council voted to oppose expansion of Bristol Airport in 2019 and has formally objected to expansion through the planning process. I will be pleased to second the Weca motion next week.”
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said: “The planning decisions in relation to Bristol Airport are a matter for North Somerset Council.
“We are extremely proud of and will continue to support South Gloucestershire’s world-class aerospace industry.
“It provides many high-quality jobs for the region, as well as investment in new technologies, materials and fuels to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, in line with our declaration of and commitment to responding to the climate and ecological emergencies.
“Over the coming decades we want our communities to benefit from the high-quality engineering and digital jobs created through the aerospace industry, which will lead to the development of technologies that we will need so that aviation and other sectors can decarbonise.”
The Bristol mayor’s office has been asked for a comment.
Mr Norris’s motion reads: “The Joint Committee recognises:
- There is a climate and biodiversity emergency
- The West of England has ambition net zero targets for 2030
- The proposed expansion of Bristol Airport is one of the biggest carbon decisions in the region for the coming decade
- The pandemic has significantly reduced air travel with a 75.6 per cent drop in passenger numbers in 2020
- Bristol Airport’s role as an employer in the region and the need for a just transition to a greener economy that does not leave workers worse-off
- Bristol City Council and Bath & North East Somerset Council opposition to current airport expansion and North Somerset Council’s decision to refuse planning permission to expand beyond 10million passengers a year
“The Joint Committee resolves:
- To oppose the latest plans to expand Bristol Airport.”
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter