Debunking the myth that Leeds Bradford Airport can expand to 7 million passengers a year even after withdrawing its planning application

 

Now that LBA has withdrawn its application for a new terminal building and to change its flying hours, Mr Hodder, the CEO of LBA, has popped up on television claiming that by extending the existing terminal and taking “…the approvals that we already have and work with those in a really creative way…”, LBA can still expand to seven million passengers a year. Let’s take a close look at this claim.

 

In 2019, LBA was given permission to build an extension to the existing terminal building, which they say they will do now. However, in 2019 they were not given permission to extend daytime flying hours by 90 mins (making 'daytime' 6am to 11.30pm) and they were not given permission to remove the 4,000 per year cap on the number of flights allowed at night. These were both requested in the now-withdrawn planning application, so they cannot happen. This means that during the all important 6-7am slot, LBA can only accommodate 5 or 6 flights in the first wave of departures to European destinations. Compare this to LBA’s predictions from the withdrawn application of 17 flights and you can see that they fall way short of what they need to achieve passenger growth of 7 million per year. So the changes to flight controls were very important to LBA’s plans for 16,000 more flights per year by 2030 and will not now happen.

 

Think about it. Why would they have gone to the time and expense of making the 2020 application if they didn't need it? In that now-withdrawn planning application, they acknowledged that they needed changes to the current ‘operating restrictions’ (ie the flying hours) in order to reach 7 million passengers per year. They said: “The Airport is forecast to continue to grow over the next decade reaching 7 million passengers per annum by 2030, assuming that existing operational restrictions imposed by existing planning controls are amended through the current planning application” Environmental Statement, Introduction, para 1.1.4.

 

S106 Contractual Agreement

Furthermore, there's a legal contract between LBA and the Council which limits passenger numbers to 5 million per year. Although LBA never acknowledges this in the press, this limit applies to the 2019 planning permission. The report of the Council’s Chief Planning Officer to the City Plans Panel meeting in February 2021 said in para 5: “Members will also recall that a planning application was submitted at the end of 2018 for a terminal extension, which was granted permission in 2019. This allowed for expansion of passengers to 5 million per annum by the year 2023.”

 

LBA’s withdrawn application also states: “The more recent [2019] grant of planning permission for the terminal building extension, retains the same controls on ATMs [Air Traffic Movements] during the period 2300-0700 ... There is, however, a Section 106 Agreement associated with this extension proposal that requires LBA to make a planning application once the passenger throughput exceeds 4.5mppa, to demonstrate what would be necessary in order to facilitate annual passenger throughput in excess of 5 million passengers per annum.” Chapter 3 of the Environmental Impact Assessment, para 3.6.16.

 

LBA’s CEO has suggested the airport could ignore the Section 106 agreement. This is not correct. The 2019 planning permission to extend the existing terminal expressly controls passenger numbers. The Section 106 agreement limits any expansion that would result in passenger numbers consistently above 4.5 million. The agreement recognises that surface access arrangements cannot easily cope beyond that number of passengers and that new transport, travel and other arrangements are needed for expansion beyond 5 million. LBA has never reached 4.5 million passengers per year and has withdrawn its latest planning application. So is LBA’s CEO proposing to break the airport’s contract with the Council? GALBA has invited him to publish a written explanation of why he believes LBA can ignore a legally binding contract with Leeds City Council but he has repeatedly refused.

 

Here’s the all important clause 6.2 of the Second Schedule to the Section 106 agreement. It states: “Not later than 12 months of the annual passenger throughput at the Airport under the Planning Permission exceeding 4.5 million passenger per annum LBA shall submit a planning application … for such further development at the Airport requiring express planning permission as would be necessary to facilitate an annual passenger throughput in excess of 5mppa.”

Night Time Flights
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Shown in lighter text - QC/0.25 and QC/0.125 were introduced later

 

When the current planning conditions were written in 1993, QC/0.5 was the lowest category, and anything below that was classed as exempt subject to a weight limit.

Mr Hodder is ‘creatively’ interpreting these outdated rules to claim that newer planes with QC of 0.25 and 0.125 are exempt and therefore do not count toward the cap of 4000 night-flights per year. If they don’t count to towards the night-time cap, an unlimited number can fly and, hey presto, LBA can get to seven million passengers. That sounds reasonable so far.

It would be if it we’re not for the fact that he’s forgetting about the weight limit! For a plane to be exempt it must weigh less than 11,600kg. This rules out all commercial jet airliners, meaning that none of the newer planes can fly; the opposite of what Mr Hodder says.

We don’t know if Mr Hodder actually believes his own rhetoric or if he has been convinced by his colleagues, but LBA’s position currently seems to be that if they repeat this claim often enough it will come true. This may be his wish, but you can be assured that GALBA’s legal team is on to it.

A more detailed explanation is available here which explains the conditions in full, their legal interpretation, and the implications for LBA.