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Campaigners secure permission for legal challenge over expansion of Bristol Airport

Opponents of the expansion of Bristol Airport have won permission for a High Court planning statutory review hearing to challenge the Government’s decision to allow its development.

Law firm Leigh Day, acting for Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN), said a hearing would be held later this year after the High Court accepted it had raised arguable grounds.

North Somerset Council decided in February 2020 to refuse planning permission for the airport expansion. 

Bristol Airport appealed to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who ruled in February 2022 that the expansion could go ahead.

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BAAN said that under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Mr Gove’s inspectors’ decision was unlawful because they made errors of law when they decided that aviation emissions were not included within North Somerset Council’s development plan policies relating to climate change and the environmental impacts of development at the airport.

Further errors arose because national aviation policy leaves it up to local rather than national government to consider each case for airport expansion on its merits, BAAN claimed.

It also argued the inspectors erred by finding they were required to assume that the Secretary of State would comply with his legal duty under the Climate Change Act 2008 and in determining that a replacement habitat for North Somerset and Mendip bats would lawfully mitigate for the loss of land used by the bats for foraging and roosting.

Leigh Day planning law specialist Ricardo Gama said: “The judge’s finding that the claim is arguable shows that there is an important issue to be decided by the court.

“It would be very surprising for national government to be able to overturn a decision of democratically elected councillors which is based on sound planning reasons, including local planning policies which are specifically meant to address climate issues. It is difficult to see how climate issues are meant to be addressed in the planning system when local authorities try to make the right decisions for a climate-compatible future only to be rebuffed by national government.”

Estelle Dehon QC of Cornerstone Barristers was instructed in the case.

Bristol Airport has been approached for comment.

Mark Smulian

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