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Climate costs of airports treble, as airport expansion battles continue

21st October, 2021

Stansted Airport expansion gets the green light; the Southampton Airport legal challenge is refused; the inquiry into Bristol Airport’s expansion draws to a close, and Gatwick Airport announces its consultation on its plans to bring its emergency runway into routine use as a second runway. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, BEIS updates its carbon values, trebling the climate impact costs of expansion and effectively blowing the economic cases for any future airport growth out of the water.

Uttlesford District Council, which had opposed the expansion of Stansted Airport, has had its application for the Judicial Review (of the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to approve the airport’s expansion plans) refused by the High Court. The council has decided not to challenge the High Court’s refusal. 

It has also been announced that campaigners have had their case to review the decision to extend the runway at Southampton refused by the High Court. This is “not the end”, says GOESA Ltd., the company set up to judicially review the runway extension, which is now seeking legal advice on renewing the matter in open court. If this happens, it can then lead to permission for the case to be heard at the High Court.

In good news, the independent assessor appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport to examine the business case for a new freight airport at the former Manston Airport, has concluded there is no new evidence to set aside the Planning Inspectorate’s 2019 finding that there is no need for the development.

The 36-day inquiry into Bristol Airport’s expansion, meanwhile, closed on Friday 8th October. The airport, whose owners include the Canadian teachers’ pension fund the OTTP, has applied to expand from 10 to 12 million passengers per annum. ‘We’re in a new world now, a world where a 1990s type approach to airport expansion no longer has weight’, concluded North Somerset Council’s barrister, at the close of the inquiry. The Inspectors’ decision is expected to be delivered in early 2022.

To add another airport to the expansion pile, Gatwick is consulting on its plans to brings its existing emergency runway into routine use, with a DCO application expected next year. The use of the second runway, and associated passenger growth, would add one million tonnes of CO2 per annum by 2050, our research has found.

The Government has declined the Good Law Project’s demand for it to update the policy for larger airports (the Airports National Policy Statement), including Heathrow, despite this being written before the UK committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Instead it has undertaken to review the ANPS after it has published its Net Zero Aviation strategy next year. The Good Law Project has indicated it is prepared to launch a legal challenge if the Government doesn’t make sufficient progress.

Meanwhile, BEIS quietly updated its carbon values to reflect the UK’s increased ambition on emissions reductions targets. With that, the carbon values applicable to the climate cost of expansions at Leeds, Southampton, Bristol and Stansted trebled, reports New Economics Foundation’s senior researcher Alex Chapman. Bristol Airport, for example, previously calculated its climate impact cost to be £9 million/ year. Under the new values, this would now be £32 million/ year. Or £49 million under the new ‘high’ price scenario, Chapman states. So now, even the already-questionable economic cases for these expansions don’t stack up.

You can check out our expansions tracker for all the latest on UK airport expansion plans here.