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Why say ‘No’ to Leeds Bradford Airport expansion

Leeds Bradford Airport expansion could see up to £3.1bn leave the local economy.

New analysis by NEF Consulting shows that plans for the airport’s expansion also overestimated the number of new jobs by over a third.

The proposed Leeds Bradford Airport expansion could cost the Leeds City Region up to £3.1bn in lost economic activity by 2050.

The expansion plans do not include the cost to Leeds of lost money caused by tourists flying out of the region, arguing that, at a time when the UK leisure and hospitality industry is in deep recession, the proposed expansion is not economically wise.

The report also finds that the expansion plan overestimates the amount of new jobs the scheme would create by 33%, does not address the airport’s ambitions to automate more of its jobs or the likely reduction in jobs in the aviation sector and understates the potential carbon emissions, poor air quality, and impact on the climate crisis. If approved, the expansion would likely be the largest single driver of growth in carbon emissions in the Leeds City Region.

The analysis found that:

  • The cost of tourists flying out of the region for international travel could see up to £3.1bn leave the Leeds City Region economy between 2024 and 2050.
  • The application for the Leeds Bradford Airport expansion overestimated the amount of jobs which would be created by the scheme by 33%. The application contradicted the airport’s own stated ambitions to automate more work in the airport, and ignored wider trends in the sector towards fewer jobs.
  • The negative impacts of noise and air pollution, carbon emissions and improving transport connections to the airport is likely to cost £883m between 2024 and 2050. If approved, the expansion would likely be the largest single driver of growth in carbon emissions in the Leeds City Region.

The airport’s economic case for expansion as “selective and logically inconsistent”, particularly regarding whether costs – like noise pollution – or benefits – like new jobs – will be newly created or relocated from elsewhere in the country. The airport claims that the scheme’s biggest benefits would be newly created but its most significant cost, the outflow of international tourism, is not modelled. The expansion application has also claimed that it would create new business productivity, despite the Covid-19 crisis leading to a trend away from flying for business.

When all the scheme’s costs and benefits are considered together, the overall ‘net’ impact of the scheme is likely to be highly negative, for both the Leeds City Region and the UK at large.  

Alex Chapman, co-author of the report and consultant at NEF Consulting, said:

“The climate change risks of the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport are obvious. What is discussed less is that the economic benefits the scheme claims to create are based on inconsistent and logically flawed economics.

The proposed jobs will not materialise because the aviation industry is automating, creating less and less jobs, and this trend has just accelerated through the Covid-19 crisis. The predicted business benefits are overstated, because businesses are making less and less use of air travel, especially in the fallout from coronavirus. Finally, the airport ignores the negative impacts of incentivising Leeds City Region residents to take cheap flights out of the country, instead of spending their money in the local economy. With the leisure and hospitality industries on their knees, this expansion would damage the local recovery from the Covid pandemic.”

Paul Chatterton, professor of urban futures at Leeds University, said:

“What this report makes clear is what we already know. We need good green jobs as part of the Covid recovery, but the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport is not the way to do this. Instead, we should be investing in community businesses and cooperatives near where people live. This can help reduce travel times, improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions, and most importantly generate meaningful, well paid, secure work that respond to community needs.”

Find a summary of the analysis here.

For details and recommendations for policy makers, download the full report here.