Leeds City Council fails to answer legal letter from airport campaigners warning it would be ‘unlawful’ to approve Leeds Bradford Airport’s planning application because its job creation claims predate the COVID-19 pandemic
Leeds City Council has failed to answer a legal letter warning that it would be “unlawful” for the Council to approve the controversial planning application by Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) for a new terminal and extended flying hours. The legal letter was sent a month and a half ago by the barrister representing the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA). The Council promised to answer in early July, but now says it is seeking legal advice and will respond “in due course”. Campaigners point out that the Council’s target date for deciding the planning application is less than a month away.
The barrister representing GALBA – Estelle Dehon, a leading planning and environmental law barrister – explained in the legal letter that LBA’s planning application breaches regulations about environmental impacts. Those regulations mean LBA must assess the impacts of their proposed expansion, including the economic impacts. LBA submitted an Economic Impact Report dated April 2020 but it completely ignored the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report bases its claims about job creation and other economic benefits on rising passenger demand and air traffic forecasts from 2017 to 2019.
However in 2020 evidence from the main aviation industry bodies shows that, far from growing, global passenger demand dropped by an unprecedented 94.4% in April as a result of the pandemic. The Airports Council International (ACI) has described this as “the worst decline of global passenger numbers in the history of the aviation industry.” GALBA’s barrister, Estelle Dehon, said: “Many airlines are not planning for demand to return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (IACO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have been publishing coronavirus impact assessments since 21 February 2020 - they all show huge falls in passenger numbers and predict a very slow recovery. Despite this evidence, LBA’s application explicitly does not assess the impact of COVID-19 at all. Their planning application says: ‘The future projections do not… take into account the potential economic and market effects” of the pandemic.”
Estelle explained: “Planning law requires LBA to provide enough information about the proposals to ensure the Council can make a decision ‘in full knowledge of the likely significant effects’ of the proposals. It also requires LBA to give the public ‘early and effective opportunities to participate’ in the decision making process. LBA’s failure to take into account the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, its dramatic impact on the economy in general and on airline businesses in particular, makes it impossible for the Council to decide the application ‘in full knowledge of the likely significant effects’ of LBA’s proposals. So it would be unlawful for the Council to approve the application on the basis of incomplete and outdated information and without the public being able to comment on a realistic assessment.”
Chris Foren, Chair of GALBA, said: “LBA’s approach to the impacts of COVID-19 is, frankly, bizarre. They rely on an economic analysis conducted before the pandemic, and then claim that the economic benefits of their proposals ‘take on even greater importance and material weight’ due to COVID-19 impacts on the local economy. Essentially, LBA are asking the Council to behave as if everything else in Leeds will be affected by the economic catastrophe of COVID-19, but not the airport, which will still deliver significant economic benefits. It would be irrational for the Council to accept this, particularly on the basis of a legally flawed application.”
Chris added: “We understand that Leeds City Council needs to consider our letter carefully. But we sent it to them 6 weeks ago. We’re disappointed not to have received a reply yet and urge them to respond soon. Their website says the decision on LBA’s application will be made on 24 August.”
1) GALBA’s letter to Leeds City Council: a full copy is attached.
2) Information about the impact of COVID-19 on air travel and passenger demand:
3) Wealthy minority take majority of flights: Leeds Climate Commission’s ‘Aviation Position Paper’ was published in December 2019. It states that the majority of UK flights are taken by a minority of better off people. 70% of all flights are taken by 20% of the population; 100% of all flights are taken by 52% of people. These ‘frequent flyers’ are on higher incomes - the wealthiest 20% take 40% of all flights. The full report is available here.
4) Aviation expansion and achieving zero carbon are fundamentally incompatible - and new technologies are not on the horizon: Leeds City Council “accepts that aviation growth and meeting zero carbon targets are fundamentally incompatible until such time as new technologies are developed.”* Leeds Climate Commission’s ‘Aviation Position Paper’ states: “In the medium to long term, there is some scope for technological change... However, the prospects for such innovations becoming widely adopted across the aviation sector in the short to medium term currently seem low - even if planes with new technologies became viable in the next decade, it would take many years for existing fleets to transition towards the new technologies. Given the nature of the climate emergency and the need to deliver deep reductions in emissions in the next decade, the growth of emissions from aviation therefore represents a major challenge.” Page 4 of Exec Board Climate Emergency report, 7 January 2020.
5) Leeds Climate Change Citizens Jury: the Jury was a group of 25 randomly selected Leeds residents, representative of the population of Leeds. They considered the climate change challenges facing the city and made recommendations about how Leeds needs to respond. Recommendation 9 was: “Leeds Bradford Airport expansion should be stopped; specifically Leeds City Council should not approve new road-building or selling land to develop… Residents should block expansion and be educated about the impact on the carbon footprint”. The jury also said that flying should be discouraged by measures including a frequent-flyer tax (based on income and number of flights and location) and by advertising holidays in the UK rather than abroad. The full report is available here.