Section 78 appeal concerning the expansion of Bristol Airport considers evidence relating to climate change

29 Sep 2021

Planning and Environment

Last week, a public inquiry heard expert evidence on climate change as part of an appeal under Section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, against the decision of North Somerset Council to refuse Bristol Airport Ltd’s application for planning permission. The appeal proposal is to develop Bristol Airport, expanding its current capacity from 10 million terminal passengers per annum to 12 million passengers per annum.

The Council refused permission for the expansion in part due to the impact of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the proposed development. Estelle Dehon acts on behalf of a Rule 6 party, Bristol Airport Action Network (‘BAAN’).

BAAN opposes the expansion of Bristol Airport due to the increased greenhouse gas emissions associated with the proposal and their contribution to hazardous climate change: its case is that the additional carbon dioxide released will have an unacceptable impact on the attainment of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 required under Section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008. Further, BAANs position is the additional greenhouse gases caused by the proposal amount to a significant adverse impact which cannot be mitigated, contrary to the Development Plan.

BAAN called three witnesses: Professor Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and former Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Finlay Asher, aerospace engineer and founder of Green Sky Thinking, and Sam Hunter Jones of ClientEarth.

Professor Anderson addressed the relationship between the accumulated emissions associated with the development proposal, their impact on climate change and relevant local, national and international climate change obligations. He noted in particular the difficulties identified by the Climate Change Committee in relying on carbon offsetting schemes such as the UK ETS and CORSIA in order to meet carbon budgets.

Finlay Asher highlighted the environmental impact of aviation and the problems with relying on projected efficiency gains or other future technological innovation (e.g. electric or hydrogen flight or alternative jet fuels) in response to claims that the climate change impact of the airport expansion could be significantly mitigated before 2050.

Sam Hunter Jones gave evidence concerning the legal and planning policy context for aviation emissions particularly in light of the passing of the sixth carbon budget into law, which specifically includes emissions associated with international aviation and shipping. He also addressed the status of the Jet Zero Consultation, emphasising that it does not purport to assess (or provide a framework for assessing) the adverse climate effects of individual expansion proposals for the purposes of planning decision-making.

The hybrid virtual and in-person inquiry opened on 20 July 2021 and is expected to run until the middle of October 2021.