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A bigger airport for Bristol?

Dave Harvey | 13:37 UK time, Thursday, 18 June 2009

So now the talking is over. At least, your chance to change the minds of airport bosses as they mull on their plans to expand Bristol International Airport is now over.

CGI image of proposed Bristol Airport terminalOn Tuesday they popped their Planning Application through the door of the council offices in Weston. Now everyone else gets six months to read and react before councillors say yea or nay.

Airport expansions are always noisy affairs. Type "Heathrow runway" into a search engine and watch your computer smoke. (Here's a pint-sized BBC summary version.)

This one is no exception, and the opposition is well organised. "Stop Bristol Airport Expansion" is a group which does exactly what it says on the tin.

"They've listened, but they've not changed anything," their spokeswoman Hillary Burn told me. "They may have changed the car parks a bit, but it won't affect the noise, the traffic or the increase in planes."

In part, she's right. When I asked the Airport Chief Exec, Robert Sinclair, what had changed after a massive public consultation, he pointed me to the car park. It has moved - on the plans - and it's a bit lower than it was. He also says they've capped night flights and noise at 2006 levels, though the opposition dispute this.

But ironically, the battle is on the ground. North Somerset councillors can stop the airport putting up a new terminal building, make them widen roads or plant trees round car parks. All of which feels like a dance round the elephant.

It's the planes the protestors don't like. Sure, they'll use arguments about car parks and buses and fuel trucks. But when the airport says they want to increase passengers from 6m in 2009 to 10m in 2019, their opponents go white with climate shock.

But here's the rub. Mr Sinclair could pile millions more passengers through his airport without asking anyone. I've seen graphs of how busy the place is now, and it's no great scoop to reveal the peak hours are early morning and tea-time. And August is busy.

Well, they can increase passenger numbers just by filling in the gaps. And adding more planes at those already busy times. The queues at security will grow, you'll have to park in Whitchurch and squat on the floor waiting for your flight. But the planes will take off. We'll probably hit 10m passengers a year without laying a single new brick.

So the plans for a bigger terminal building and a five storey car park are about comfort, not climate change. The real row is, of course, about global warming and big jets flying over tiny villages. But they can't have that argument - they have to talk about roads and noise and traffic.

So over the next six months, watch out for huge interest in the traffic flows of Barrow Gurney and the Air Quality Count in Winford.

Here, we can have the real debate. Should Bristol, a city with a measure of green pride, buck the trend and cap its airport? Or if people are flying anyway, doesn't it make sense at least to fly local and cut the car journey? And what about those cute North Somerset villages: can 10m people get to the airport on an essentially rural road network?

Meantime, here's what Lulsgate looked like when they opened it back in 1957.

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  • Comment number 1.

    The consultation is 6 weeks, ending 17th August now after a slight extension.
    The only place you can find the full plans in a searchable form is on the SBAE website
    The downsides of expansion are:
    at least 2m extra car ourneys per year on rural roads
    another 12.5 hectares of fields turned into car park
    an increase in flights and night flights
    an increase in emissions - by 2019 BIA could have the same climate impact as the whole of Bristol
    As most of the customers are outbound tourists, the tiny amount brought in by foreign visitors is easily outweighed by the outbound spend. In recent months, passenger numbers have dropped by 15% or more, yet the number of visitors at local attractions has gone up. Airport expansion competes with local tourism.
    The jobs mentioned are deceptive. Of the 3500, only 900 are at the airport and on past record very few indirect jobs are created in the region. Some more of the 3500 total is just economic trickery - jobs "created" by the spending of the airport workers. The trend has been to reduce jobs required to carry 1m passengers - if the whole airport was as efficient as Ryanair then the expansion would create only 400 jobs, less than the new Primark in Broadmead.
    There is no evidence that an expanded airport is needed to aid businesses in the region. BA and Lufthansa left because the business focussed routes were uneconomic, and all the new Ryanair routes are for sunseekers.

    Any readers who are concerned or want to find out more should visit

  • Comment number 2.


    I hope that the people of the Bristol and region, will
    get the wish to have a bigger airport in the future...

    NB: I am not affiliated and/or associated with the parties in
    this debate...

    =Dennis Junior=


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