Why it has to be no go for Bristol Airport expansion

The campaign by Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) to stop the environmentally damaging expansion of Bristol Airport continues with a significant High Court hearing challenging the decision by the Planning Inspectorate made in February 2022 to support Bristol Airport’s appeal against a refusal of planning permission.

In 2018, Bristol Airport submitted plans to expand from 10 to 12 million passengers per year, with an extra 23,800 flights including 4,000 night flights. Planning permission was refused by North Somerset Council in February 2020 – a decision ratified in March 2020. Later in 2020, Bristol Airport announced they would be appealing this decision and requested an inquiry, led by a planning inspector. BAAN was a significant contributor to the 10-week Public Inquiry which ended in October 2021. Despite a considerable body of evidence and argument submitted by BAAN and others, on February 2022, the Inquiry decision was announced that Bristol Airport’s appeal be upheld.

As an interested party in the Inquiry, BAAN explored the option to challenge the Planning Inspectorate’s decision and felt that certain procedural issues could be called into question. With support from the local community and councils, BAAN launched a successful bid to take the Inspectorate to court.


This court action is now scheduled for Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th November 2022 and will be held at the Bristol Civic Justice Court on Redcliffe Street. You can read more about this hearing and the action planned around it here: High Court Action.


Before we relocated down to Keynsham from Thurrock in Essex, one of the things we did was to look into any major planning issues that would have an adverse impact upon the quality of life for people in the region and the environment. We were aware of the plans for the expansion of Bristol Airport before we moved. We were also aware of the strength of opposition to it. When we looked at a map to see exactly where the airport was located, we did have a sharp intake of breath.

To put it bluntly, it’s in the arse end of nowhere. That’s not to disrespect the residents of the surrounding areas, it’s to point out that Bristol Airport is in a rural location. It’s served by one main road, the A38. The nearest railway stations going from east to west are Parson Street, Nailsea & Blackwell or Yatton. When we say nearest, that’s relative because they’re all a fair few miles away from the airport. Access onwards from Parson Street to the airport is down the A38, by bus or taxi. Access from Nailsea & Blackwell or Yatton would be down the back roads for much of the way and it would have to be by taxi. Good luck with getting a taxi from any of those locations, particularly if you’re up against it timewise!

Basically, there’s no realistic option to get to and from Bristol Airport by train. This stands in stark contrast to Heathrow, Luton, Stanstead, Southend, London City and Gatwick. In 2019, 39.3% of passengers travelling to and from Heathrow did so by public transport. (Heathrow 2019 Travel Report) While this is still a much lower percentage than desired, it stands in stark contrast to the mere 12.5% of passengers travelling to and from Bristol Airport using public transport. (Development of Bristol Airport to Accommodate 12 Million Passengers Per Annum: Parking Demand Study – Teneo Consulting) Remember that in the case of Bristol, public transport to and from the airport is by bus so at the end of the day, it’s still vehicles on the roads. They’re hoping that percentage of passengers using public transport can rise to a staggering 15% but the underlying assumption is that the vast majority of journeys to and from the airport will be by car.

These harsh facts don’t deter Bristol Airport from trying to bullshit people with this on their Travel to and from the airport page:

Fast and frequent rail connections

With Bristol Temple Meads just 8 miles away, you can connect easily to the national rail network. Just jump on the A1 bus service for the best way to get to the station.

No matter how they might try to pull the wool over people’s eyes, the train ‘option’ still means a journey by road for the final leg to the airport. Parking charges are a big earner for Bristol Airport so, there’s not really that much of an incentive to encourage passengers to switch to public transport options such as bus or coach, let alone rail. Given the massive cost of building a rail link right into the airport, it’s a reasonable assumption that under current circumstances, it won’t happen because no one wants to dip their hand into their pocket to fund it.

Even at its current level of operation, Bristol Airport generates a level of traffic that with the consequent vehicle emissions, is damaging to the environment and to health. On top of this, there’s the issue of vehicle noise as well. The proposed expansion means there will be two million extra passengers a year. That’s approximately 23,000 more flights a year. This will include 4,000 night flights between 12,30-6.30am. It will mean up to 10,000 extra car journeys a day which would necessitate a massive new multi-storey car park on Green Belt land. That will only serve to exacerbate the already existing threats to the environment and health.

Up to 10,000 extra journeys per day will inevitably lead to demands for new roads to be built. The proposed extension of the ring road around the south of Bristol, currently on hold, could well become an active threat again. This group – South Bristol Wrong Road – are more than willing to swing into action again should that threat re-emerge as a result of any expansion of Bristol Airport. With the volume of traffic always expanding to fill whatever new road capacity is provided, we end up in a never ending, environmentally damaging spiral that never resolves itself.

Even before considerations about carbon emissions and climate change are factored in, the arguments outlined above should hopefully make it blindingly obvious that even on sensible planning grounds alone, the expansion of Bristol Airport should be a no go. However, we live in a system where joined up thinking is in short supply and the growth boosterists operate in silos, unaware of the adverse consequences of their demands for endless growth. When it comes to those who presume to rule over us, there are no adults in the room prepared to think about how we move to a future where we’re not relying on finite resources. It’s down to many researchers, campaigners and activists at the grassroots to do that deep thinking.


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