Bristol Airport Expansion Blocked – What Now?

A conflict of interest between environmental enthusiasts and advocates for development was pivotal in a decision that blocked Bristol Airport’s expansion earlier this week. The airport expects to exceed capacity by 2021 but now has no way to manage the demand. What happens next?

Bristol Airport
What’s next for Bristol Airport? Photo: Bristol Airport

Rejection over climate change fears

On Tuesday 11th February 2020, a four and a half-hour meeting between councilors in Weston Super Mare, England concluded that expansion plans for Bristol Airport would not go ahead. 18 of the 25 members present assiduously refused the development. The main reason for the refusal was the environmental damage that airport expansion would cause.

The verdict was claimed as a victory by many, however, it leaves Bristol Airport in quite a predicament. The airport is currently operating on the forecast that, in just one year’s time, it will have exceeded its capacity. By 2021, the airport expects more than 12 million travelers annually which is something it’s structurally not prepared for.

Needless to say, the vote has come as a bit of a blow to the airport. It had hoped that the expansion would allow injection of a further £4.1bn ($5.19bn) into the local economy and would demonstrate the UK’s expanding aviation sector. That said, this week’s rejection does not signal the end of the road for Bristol’s expansion.

Bird's eye view of Bristol Airport
Bristol is still hopeful about expansion. Photo: Hydrock via Wikimedia Commons

Appealing against the decision

Bristol Airport’s management, although undoubtedly disappointed, has not been thwarted by the decision. The refusal marks the first stage in many to crystallize Bristol’s expansion plans. David Lees, the CEO of Bristol Airport, was reported by the Bristol Post to be optimistic about the coming weeks. He said:

“There are potential options for us. I will not be discounting an appeal. We’re still yet to see the full grounds of the rejection, the rejection will need to be ratified. The actual grounds for the ratification aren’t clear yet, we’re in this period where we’re awaiting what these grounds are, that will inform our next steps.”

The decision still needs to be ratified and can be overturned. If the committee changes its mind, then Bristol Airport will be free to develop for the additional two million passengers it expects to receive within the coming years. However, a successful appeal is not a guarantee.

What happens if expansion is blocked?

With the current social attitude towards the environment, it looks unlikely that the airport will be able to win over the support of locals and environmental advocates. There were already multiple protests staged throughout Bristol and England’s South West prior to the meeting and figures about return on investment will unlikely affect that sentiment.

The main reason that the development plans were blocked was because of climate change. Ergo, the first question that needs to be posed is: will this stop passengers from flying?

This is the objective, right? With less capacity, Bristol Airport will be unable to accommodate so many passengers and passengers will choose simply not to fly. Well, that’s not really correct. In fact, what’s more likely to happen is that passengers will use other regional airports around the UK. Or, as a potentially cheaper alternative, they will fly into London.

Heathrow airport sign with Airplane
Blocking expansion won’t necessarily stop people from flying. Photo: Getty Images

The expansion refusal certainly will achieve it’s objective if it’s looking to target those who need to get to Bristol or England’s South West. Passengers will then have to get a train. Overall, it will stop excessive traffic into Bristol in favor of more environmentally friendly modes of transport. That’s a win for the climate. But let’s not be led into thinking that Bristol Airport will give up that easily.

Changing times will allow for development in Bristol

In fact, for Bristol Airport the vote against its expansion may merely be a cooling-off period allowing the environment to recover before the development goes ahead. Whilst Bristol Airport’s carbon roadmap was not enough to garner support for the airport’s expansion, officials are hopeful that the inevitable decarbonization of the aviation industry will work in its favor.

Bristol city
Bristol will eventually profit once the aviation industry is sufficiently decarbonized. Photo: Brizzleboy via Wikimedia Commons

According to The Guardian, the lead councilor said he was optimistic about the future. Don Davies said:

“I know some people will be upset by this decision and I am sure that we can reconsider it in future when the airline industry has decarbonised and the public transport links to the airport are far stronger.”

Should councilors allow Bristol Airport to expand? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.