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Press Release: Leeds Bradford Airport - The Next Cumbria Coal Mine Case

On 11 February, Leeds City Council (LCC) provisionally approved a planning application to expand Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA), despite the Council having declared a climate emergency in March 2019. Today the West Yorkshire anti-airport expansion campaign, the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA), has written to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, asking him to ‘call in’ the decision on LBA. If he agrees, the airport’s planning application will be dealt with at a public inquiry.

GALBA believes that LBA expansion is the aviation equivalent of the Cumbria coal mine case. There are striking similarities: a local authority decision - made in the same year that the UK hosts COP26 - which would result in significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions and which flatly contradicts the latest advice to government from the Committee on Climate Change in the 6th Carbon Budget.

Chris Foren, chair of GALBA, said: “To say the least, this decision is embarrassing for the UK's reputation as a global leader on tackling the climate crisis. It is also deeply embarrassing for a local authority that says it’s committed to reduce the city’s emissions to net zero by 2030. What’s more, an independent review of the impact of airport expansion on the region’s economy also concluded that it would have a negative effect.”

Chris Foren added: “Robert Jenrick has the power to intervene. But will he? One of the key reasons that Leeds councillors felt able to support airport expansion is because their planning officers told them that international aviation emissions are not a matter for local authorities to consider in the planning process. GALBA believes that is legally incorrect and reserves the option of challenging LCC in the courts. However for now, that's what people have been told, so we are asking national government to take responsibility where local government has failed. The Secretary of State has the power to intervene and he should now exercise that power.

Estelle Dehon, of Cornerstone Barristers, is acting for GALBA. She said: “Like the Cumbria coal mine decision, there are cogent reasons to say that the conditional approval of Leeds Bradford Airport expansion should be called in by the Secretary of State. The serious climate change impact of the proposal, which is totally out of line with the Climate Change Committee’s guidance on how to reach net zero, means the development would have significant effects beyond its immediate location. Granting permission would commit the UK to greenhouse gas emissions that would contribute to a surge in emissions in the early 2030s; would make the 2050 target much more difficult and costly to achieve and would require reductions in airport capacity elsewhere in the UK. The proposal causes significant effects beyond just LBA and the city of Leeds. It raises the type of issues where consideration at national level, by the Secretary of State, is required.”

Additional notes:

1) Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport: GALBA has been campaigning against LBA expansion since January 2020. Its supporters come from across West Yorkshire and beyond, from all walks of life and from across the political spectrum.

2) GALBA fundraising appeal: on Saturday 13 February, GALBA launched an appeal to raise funds to challenge LCC’s decision. In less than a week, over £24,000 has been donated.

3) Letter to Secretary of State: a copy of the ‘call-in’ request is available on GALBA’s website here.

4) Estelle Dehon: Estelle is a leading environmental and planning barrister, who practices at Cornerstone Barristers.

5) 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.

6) Leeds City Council’s conditional approval: on 11 February, at the end of a nine hour meeting, 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.

7) 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.

8) 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

8) 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.

9) 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.

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