Judge gives permission for High Court challenge to go-ahead for Bristol Airport expansion

11 May 2022

Planning and Environment, Public Law and Judicial Review

Estelle Dehon QC represents a local group which has been granted permission for a High Court hearing to challenge the government’s decision to allow an expansion of Bristol Airport to accommodate 12 million passengers a year.

A planning statutory review will be heard later this year after a High Court judge ruled that Bristol Airport Action Network Coordinating Committee (BAAN) had raised arguable grounds of challenge which merit consideration by the court.

BAAN is appealing the decision 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 a 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 QC 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.”

Stephen Clarke, one of the coordinators of BAAN, said:

“The idea that airports can just continue to expand without limit in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis is so obviously wrong. If Bristol Airport plans are allowed, there are more than 20 other regional airports who will use the precedent to also expand; why should aviation be in the privileged position of expanding without limit while every other sector is being constrained? How can this country ever meet its legal obligations under the Climate Change Act?

“We are delighted that the judge agrees that we have arguable grounds that the inspector’s decision has errors in law and we look forward to the full hearing. Many thanks to the thousands of people in the region and beyond who have supported us financially through this three-year battle.”