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Bristol airport: inconsistencies in the case for expansion

Plans for expansion of Bristol Airport may have overestimated benefits to the region by £280 million.

The business case for the expansion of Bristol Airport may have significantly overestimated its economic benefits, and underestimated its social and environmental costs, a NEF Consulting report for CPRE has found.

The report argues that inconsistencies in the airport’s case for expansion mean that the application may have overestimated the total benefits to the region by £280 million. The application for expansion appears to have overestimated future passenger demand and ignores the potential limits to aviation posed by the government’s carbon reduction targets. It gives too much emphasis on the economic benefits to the region, and underestimates the carbon costs.

The report recommends that the application for Bristol Airport’s expansion be rejected, and any future applications address concerns over the airport’s ability to expand under government carbon reduction targets.

  • The report casts doubts on the assessments used to justify the airport’s expansion in a number of areas.
  • The business case for the airport’s expansion plans for 3.5 million more passengers than the Department for Transport predicts will be flying, and does not take into account the impact of climate legislation on people’s future flying habits. Bristol Airport is not predicted to exceed its full current capacity until the 2040s.
  • The assessment does not consider the negative effect the airport may have on other airports in South West England and Wales, and fails to account for the increase in carbon emissions caused by additional flights.
  • These combined inconsistencies in the assessment mean that the value of the expansion should be reduced by £20 million for North Somerset, £100 million for the West of England, and £280 million for the South West region and South Wales.

The report recommends that any future applications for airport expansion should be required to address concerns around staying within the government’s targets for carbon emissions.

Dr Alex Chapman, Consultant at NEF Consulting and an author of the report, said:

“The business case for expansion of Bristol Airport attempts to pass the buck on the carbon emissions its development will enable. There is a high likelihood this expansion could push the aviation sector even further away from its national carbon emissions target. At the same time the airport has clearly overstated the economic benefits the scheme will generate.

“In the context of a climate emergency we must rethink how we appraise environmentally damaging investments. Just over the border the Welsh Government have taken the courageous decision to scrap the proposed extension of the M4 in favour of an active and public transport solution – Bristol and North Somerset Council now have a unique opportunity to do their bit for future generations.”

Commenting on the report, David Worskett, Chair of CPRE Avonside, said:

“This independent study by NEF shows that one of the principle justifications for expanding Bristol Airport – the claimed economic benefits – is simply not sound. Nor can the proposals be squared with recent national and local commitments on climate change. To incur all the damage involved – to the Green Belt, to the tranquility of the whole region, to the levels of congestion and pollution, when the benefits are simply not there would be highly irresponsible. Far from enhancing the region’s economy the net result would be to harm it.”


CPRE Avonside is the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) registered charity for the Bristol, Bath, N.E Somerset, N Somerset and S Gloucestershire areas. It campaigns for a thriving, sustainable countryside that serves the needs of rural residents and provides an invaluable asset for the residents of the region’s main cities.

See a summary of the report here.

Download the full report here.

For more information on CPRE visit their website.