Engaging with politicians on climate change

To my surprise I discovered this week that as a resident you can talk for 5 minutes to your council on any matter within their responsibility. I made the argument against airport expansion partly by analysing the views of those commenting on the application via the council's planning siteIf you find the objections persuasive, please add your own on the council site from anywhere in the UK (or maybe even beyond?).


A talk to North Somerset Full Council 24th September 2019

"I speak as a local resident but also as a social scientist at the University of London specialising in the evaluation of development projects. In social terms the project I want to comment on – Bristol Airport expansion – is a relatively easy case to judge. I wanted to share my assessment.

The 2019 poll commissioned by the airport claims that the ‘silent majority’ in South West support the plans. However, this is misleading. Their proposition was: ‘Bristol Airport has submitted plans to increase its capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers a year.’ And they go on to say they only plan to improve existing facilities not build more. 17% strongly supported, 54% tended to support. But supported what? This is spin. 10 million passengers sounds as if it is the current level – actually it was 8.6 million last year and their longer-term plan is to go even higher than 12m. The ‘expansion’ sounds as if it is all about improvements, downplaying the huge increase in flights with all its attendant problems. This was not an informative poll – I don’t blame them, it is company press officer’s job is to spin. But from a detached viewpoint, it is a bit like the airport saying it will be carbon neutral by 2025 and leaving the planes and cars out of the calculation. 

It is far more telling that an amenity that should be popular with people in the region had 3496 objectors and 1786 supporters only on your site by 24thSeptember. Plus, 1000s more have signed various petitions and attended meetings to express their objections in other ways since December 2018 - explained in detail on the Stop Bristol Airport Expansion website. And our MP Dr Liam Fox believes that the expansion is inappropriate unless there is major investment in infrastructure first.

Looking at supporters on your site: – bearing in mind that much support appeared just after the airport emailed passengers and suppliers to encourage them to express approval, we can assume they are mostly customers. It was pointed out by someone on your site that the airport gave the impression it was a survey rather than a response to a planning application. A large number of these supporters suggested improvements, as if they thought they were writing to the airport rather than the council. Most gave no reason for support; some mention jobs but with no details. Many caveated their support, writing that they would only support development if there is cheaper car parking and a massive investment made in transport links first– before the airport expands. 

Looking at the objections: – their answers are more varied and informative than supporters and can be summarised as follows: the airport is hoping to expand in the wrong place, at the wrong time and – bearing in mind the profits will go to Canada – for the wrong reasons. They mostly come from the South West area, including a huge number from Bristol, and mention various problems all connected to people’s well-being:

  • Noise pollution (especially at night)
  • Air pollution and other health impacts (including on children – note the Supreme Court’s ruling on 6thJune 2019 that councils can be held liable for failing to protect children)
  • Effect on local ecology
  • Illegal car parking and other harm to the greenbelt and to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Extra traffic, accidents and chronic congestion (especially on narrow roads) partly due to absence of rail and motorway links
  • Economic benefits mostly go to Canada and risky as government policy could change on airports 

and above all

  • Climate emergency

As you know, since April 2019 North Somerset residents’ increased knowledge about the climate crisis has led to many, including young people, expressing their dissent with passion. They cite a wide range of reports including one by the New Economic Foundation. One resident on the N Somerset site wrote: “Ask yourselves: which side of history do I want to be on?” 

In my research I study politicians in Westminster. So I realise that the representation of North Somerset must often involve an impossible weighing up of diverse and conflicting needs and interests of constituents, but in this case it seems to me that the evidence of harm without benefit is overwhelmingly against expansion."