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Leeds Bradford Airport: the planning application that isn’t what it seems

Photo of four young campaigners holding up a "say no to Leeds Bradford Airport expansion" banner

Leeds Bradford Airport’s Australian owners, AMP Capital, want to expand the airport and need permission from Leeds City Council. In the early days of their planning application, LBA’s chief executive Hywel Rees used an eye-catching headline to say that the application was not about expansion at all. It was really about a new, zero-carbon terminal building – and who wouldn’t want that?

Mr Rees (who, according to LBA’s accounts, was paid £2.3 million last year) claimed on 17 June: “We’re not actually expanding. Our proposals are within our existing planning permission for seven million passengers – we’re not proposing to go beyond that.”

This claim is not correct. At a Leeds City Plans Panel meeting on 25 September, the council’s previous planning permission, allowing LBA to extend its existing terminal, was discussed. A planning officer explained that this allowed for expansion of passengers to five million per year.

While Mr Rees has not repeated the ‘seven million permission’ claim recently, the message took on a life of its own. It is often repeated by supporters of expansion on social media, who say LBA is going to expand come what may, and it would be foolish not to grant this application because of the glittering prize of a new terminal building that awaits. This is simply not true.

AMP Capital make a second claim that they can fly certain categories of aircraft at night without counting them towards the overall limit on night time flights – in other words, in unlimited quantity. This is repeated so often in the introduction to the planning application that no one is left in doubt that it’s central to their reasoning.

Unfortunately for AMP Capital, this is also not correct. The planning condition allowing ‘exempt’ night time aircraft to fly, refers to a legal notice in force at the time. This rule includes a weight limit that means aircraft as big as commercial jets are not exempt. After unsuccessful requests for a copy of the notice to the council and the airport (who said they couldn’t find it), I tracked down a copy myself and proved the weight limit exists:

Photocopy of Civil Aviation Authority noise restrictions notice
Click on the image to download the document as a pdf file

Only AMP Capital and their consultants know why they overlooked this all-important weight limit. No one can accuse them of dishonesty. They have to be given the benefit of the doubt. Airport operators must project an air of professionalism and trustworthiness, priding themselves on making passengers feel safe in their hands.

AMP Capital’s consultants, Quod, “Act with INTEGRITY” and promise “attention to detail and honest commercial advice”. So for professional consultants to repeat these erroneous claims in the planning application, without doing some basic fact checking, beggars belief. And for this inaccurate data to be included in Noise Consultants Limited’s thousands of calculations that predict future noise levels, cemented the error into the application. The planning application gives the impression of a trustworthy message that expansion is going to be just fine: Trust us, we’re the professionals. The fact is, the application contains fundamental flaws.

The consequence of these errors is that LBA’s planning application gives the impression that the difference in noise and emissions between going ahead with expansion or not is insignificant. Whereas, in fact, the number of night time flights in the planning application’s “without development scenario” is overstated by 82 percent for the summer months. It’s impossible to make a full year assessment because the application leaves out the necessary information. Another oversight? Certainly anyone trying to make a realistic judgment about the effects of airport expansion is kept well and truly in the dark.

The ‘exempt’ aircraft claim has even been overlooked by the council’s planning officers. In their report to the plans panel meeting on 25 September, it is mentioned five times without challenge – saying it is “highly relevant” and that further information has been requested. Whether further information was provided is unknown.

GALBA became so concerned about the lack of scrutiny on this crucial matter that it sought legal opinion, which has now been sent to Leeds City Council outlining the error in law. Who knows what the planning officers will do about all this? But as it stands, the application is inaccurate and misleading and it must be rewritten or rejected. Our understanding is that a decision will be made on LBA’s application by Leeds City Council’s city plans panel in mid-January.

Andrew Tait is writing on behalf of the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport.

For more information on this, including viewing the planning documents online, see the Leeds Council website HERE and enter the planning reference number 20/02559/FU.

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