High Court Hearing of Challenge to the Expansion of Bristol Airport Begins

08 Nov 2022

Planning and Environment

On Day 2 of COP27 in Egypt, as the importance of holding global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees takes centre stage again and UN Secretary-General António Guterres warns that humanity is “on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”, climate change is also taking centre stage in the High Court at Bristol. Today and tomorrow, Estelle Dehon KC, representing Bristol Airport Action Network (“BAAN”), will argue a challenge by a local group to the government’s decision to allow an expansion of Bristol Airport to accommodate 12 million passengers a year.

BAAN is appealing the decision by a panel of Inspectors to overrule North Somerset Council’s February 2020 refusal of planning permission for the airport expansion. Bristol Airport Limited (BAL) appealed the council’s decision and the panel of three Inspectors ruled in February 2022 that the expansion could go ahead.

BAAN claims that under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the Inspectors’ decision made errors of law:

  • When they decided that aviation emissions are not included within North Somerset Council’s development plan policies relating to climate change and the environmental impacts of development at the airport;
  • In interpreting national aviation policy “Beyond the Horizon: The Future of UK Aviation – Making Best Use” which leaves it up to local rather than national government to consider each case for airport expansion on its merits;
  • In finding it was required to “assume” that the Secretary of State would comply with his legal duty under the Climate Change Act 2008;
  • In discounting the impact of the airport expansion on local carbon budgets;
  • Concerning the climate impact of non-CO2 emissions; and
  • In determining that replacement habitat for North Somerset and Mendip bats would lawfully mitigate for the loss of land used by the bats for foraging and roosting.

Estelle Dehon KC said:

“Misinterpretation of national policy on airports has led to a climate dissonance in airport planning decisions, resulting in permission being granted for unjustified expansion that is demonstrably contrary to local and national climate obligations. This case seeks to clarify the policy position and the correct approach to aviation emissions.”


Estelle represents BAAN, instructed by Ricardo Gama at Leigh Day