246 University of Leeds staff and postgraduate researchers ask Robert Jenrick to ‘call in’ the decision on Leeds Bradford Airport
In a dramatic development in the debate about the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA), 246 University of Leeds staff and postgraduate researchers have signed an open letter calling on the government to take responsibility for the airport’s planning application, which was given conditional approval by Leeds City Council on 11 February.
The signatories, including 46 professors and associate professors, say that expanding LBA’s passenger numbers by 75% exceeds the maximum rate of growth that the Climate Change Committee considers compatible with the UK’s legally adopted net-zero target. They warn that expansion would make it much more difficult - and more costly - for the UK to achieve its climate targets and would require reductions in passenger numbers elsewhere in the UK.
Paul Chatterton, Professor of Urban Futures at the University of Leeds, said: “On 24th February, Boris Johnson chaired a United Nations Security Council session and rightly told world leaders that climate change is a threat to our security. This is the context in which the UK’s Committee on Climate Change recently told the government there should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the aviation sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions trajectory. Aviation very clearly is not ‘on track’ - its trajectory is one of increasing, not decreasing, greenhouse gas emissions.”
“The following day, in response to pressure to reverse its outline approval, Leeds City Council said ‘Current government policy points to these emissions being something that should be primarily tackled at a national level’ and we agree. This is why the Secretary of State simply must call in this decision so the impact on the climate can be properly assessed.”
The open letter ends by saying: “In the year that the UK is hosting the COP26 conference, it is vital that we show leadership on climate change and take the necessary actions to secure a safe, zero-carbon future. We therefore urge you [Robert Jenrick] to call in this application so that the issues highlighted are considered in light of national and international climate targets and associated guidance.”
46 of the signatories are professors and associate professors, with expertise in climate change science, impacts and policy, zero carbon futures, the green job to job transition, sustainable transport/business/cities/ energy/food, climate change communications, ecological economics and many other related fields of research. Its signatories include Professor Julia Steinberger and Professor Andy Challinor, lead authors of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports, which provide the world’s policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as ways to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.
Chris Foren, chair of the anti-airport expansion Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) said: “It is greatly encouraging to see that so many staff and postgraduate researchers from the University of Leeds have added their voices to request that the airport’s expansion application be called in.
“The Secretary of State has the power to intervene in planning matters that conflict with national policies or that cause substantial controversy. Given the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, and the international embarrassment caused by approving new airports and new coal mines in the year we are hosting COP26, it is critical he should now exercise that power.”
1) Open letter to Robert Jenrick: a copy of the open letter is available here.
2) Call in request to Secretary of State: a copy of GALBA’s formal ‘call-in’ request is available on GALBA’s website
3) Photos: a high resolution photo of a giant projection onto Leeds Civic Hall of the words ‘Stop Leeds Bradford Airport expansion’ is attached. The photo is owned by GALBA and given freely for publication but please credit the photographer, Neil Terry.
4) Leeds City Council’s conditional approval: on 11 February councillors on the Leeds City Plans Panel voted 9-5 to provisionally approve LBA’s planning application. The application was first submitted in January 2020 and has proved highly controversial for the Labour controlled authority. All five of the city’s Labour MPs (Hilary Benn, Rachel Reeves, Richard Burgon, Alex Sobel, Fabian Hamilton) objected to expansion, along with two Bradford Labour MPs (Naz Shah, Imran Hussain) and one Bradford Conservative MP (Philip Davies). Leeds City Council’s approval was conditional and the conditions have not yet been agreed between LBA and the council.
5) Secretary of State power to ‘call in’: because a final decision has not yet been made by LCC, the Secretary of State can use his powers to ‘call in’ the decision. If it is called in, LBA’s planning application will be dealt with at a public inquiry, led by the government’s Planning Inspectorate.
6) 6th Carbon Budget: in December 2020, the Committee on Climate Change published its advice to the government in the UK’s 6th Carbon Budget. The government must respond to the recommendations by June. The CCC’s advice included aviation-specific recommendations:
There should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless aviation emissions reduce at a significantly faster rate than is currently feasible - if LBA is allowed to expand, which other UK airport will be required to contract?
UK aviation passenger growth, within existing airport capacity, must be limited to 25% between 2018 and 2050 - LBA is seeking a 75% increase by 2030, increasing from 4 to 7 million passengers per year and LBA already has consent and capacity to increase by 27%
The CORSIA offset scheme for mitigating international aviation emissions is not currently compatible with the UK’s net zero commitment - this was not considered by Leeds City Council yet this is the most up to date expert information on CORSIA so the basis on which provisional approval was given is contrary to national policies on important matters
The UK’s share of international aviation emissions should be included in the UK’s Carbon Budgets - this is a fundamental change from the current position where theoretical ‘headroom’ is allowed in the Carbon Budget for aviation emissions
7) GHG emissions increase from LBA expansion: the Leeds Climate Commission and experts in climate science from the University of Leeds have calculated that LBA’s proposals mean greenhouse gas emissions from the airport would double in the next 10 years and exceed the amount allowed for the whole of Leeds, as set out in the Leeds Carbon Reduction Roadmap, from 2026 onwards. See the report here.
LBA’s planning application underestimated the GHG impact of expansion by at least a factor of four. Taking into account all emissions sources, it would result in an additional 11.3 Mt CO2e by 2050. This would cause a significant effect beyond its immediate locality and would have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets. Looking at the whole of the 60 year lifespan of the proposed expansion, from 2024-2084, it would cause an additional 22.5 Mt CO2e. This means its impact would be felt long after the date by which the United Kingdom has committed to achieve net zero.
8) Economic impact of LBA expansion
This raises issues that would have significant effects beyond the immediate locality of LBA and Leeds because the economic impacts relied on pertain not just to Leeds, but to the wider Leeds City Region and beyond. GALBA commissioned the New Economics Foundation (NEF) to review the economic benefits claimed by LBA. NEF concluded that LBA had over-estimated job creation by around 33%, essentially by ignoring automation and economies of scale achieved by the modern terminal building. NEF also concluded that the scheme would have a damaging economic impact on the wider Leeds City Region, because of the negative impact of outbound tourism. It is notable that the independent economic reviewers brought in by LCC agreed with NEF that LBA had not calculated the cost of outbound tourism. NEF subsequently conducted a more detailed calculation of outbound tourism costs, derived exclusively from official datasets, with a variety of sensitivity analyses.