Photos: Valentin Saiz
Later tonight, North Somerset Councillors will convene at the Weston Super Mare town hall to make the long-awaited decision as to whether to expand Bristol Airport. If given the green light, the airport’s capacity will increase to 12 million passengers a year, which would mean extra 23,000 flights a year, 10,000 more car journeys a day and 4000 unrestricted night flights. There will be a new canopy at the front of the building, an additional multi-storey car park and improvements to the on-site road layout.
While Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, along with Business West and others maintain expansion would bring economic benefits – such as jobs and investment to the region, protesters have long raised a question mark over the need to expand an airport which is currently running under capacity, particularly as we’re in the middle of a climate emergency.
Last August, I looked into claims that the business case for the airport expansion was overstated, and the greenwashing of the “Carbon Neutral by 2050” pledge. But arguably, this is not a decision that should be made on just numbers alone. What about the people who will be most directly affected? Those for whom this is not just an abstract decision but a daily lived reality. The Bristol Cable visited local residents to see how they are affected and hear their concerns.
“It’s like putting the cart before the horse”
David and Fiona Tonkin, Chew Valley.
“It’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse – you don’t expand something unless you have the infrastructure first!” Fiona Tonkin tells me. While noting climate concerns, the Tonkins say the logistical impracticalities of expansion are reason enough. “The whole road outside our house is totally backed up, I’ve been known to park my car and just walk home it’s so bad.”
Bristol is the 10th largest airport in the country. The other nine are served by a major motorway or tram link. Meanwhile in Bristol, we have the A38 and small country roads and the nearest motorway junction is 14 miles away.
“It’s putting pressure on local businesses because people are put off driving through,” agreed David. Traffic is a complaint I hear a lot throughout the day. Residents tell me of milk tankers stuck in traffic unable to get to the cattle, tractors can’t pull out of farms and people are put off cycling because of the reckless driving of people going to the airport.
“As if we couldn’t take any more crap from the airport.”
“A few people down to the pub kept saying they were finding little piles of white paper – loo paper – in their front gardens. So one guy checked his CCTV to find out what was going on. A taxi driver had come into the garden, pulled down his trousers behind the overgrown lilander trees and did his business! As if we couldn’t take anymore crap from the airport!” Richard laughs. It’s certainly a graphic illustration of the pressure these roads are under.
Richard is an ardent campaigner against the airport expansion. Last year, he organised 65 people to ride on their bikes between the two main roundabouts of the airport. Another time, he collected 2,700 letters of objection which he put into two suitcases and delivered by bicycle to North Somerset Council. He now despondently tells me that the Council has decided to count this as just one objection, despite the individually named and addressed letters, which will hold much less weight. He tells me that his fighting spirit is not shared by many.
“Many people in the village don’t feel like they have a voice because they’ve taken the airport’s pound.” He is referring to the Airport Community Fund – this gives money to local projects and gives compensation to mitigate the effects of expansion, for example £5,000 worth of double glazing if you fall within a certain vicinity of the airport. It has appeased some, but not Richard. “Big money thinks it can buy you off, and too often it’s successful. You can’t compensate for pollution or for a loss of quality of life”
“Just take what they can give you”
Tony Adams is probably the closest to the Flight Path as you can get: He has spent his whole life just the other side of Felton Common which ends 400m from the end of the runway and has endless tales about the airport.
“I’ve had an aircraft land in my garden!” he tells me. Here, planes fly so low overhead you can read the writing on them. The noise is deafening and unceasing, and we have to pause our interview many times to wait for the planes to pass.
“If you wipe the outside of my windows with a tissue there’s an oily black film on them. I’ve had roof tiles come clean off twelve times until I had to nail them down. What if one of my grandchildren was in the garden?” he says.
The phenomenon he refers to is known as vortices – when a 200 tonne plane comes to within 150 feet of the ground, that vortex has a suction and a pressure event. This suction is so great, it can suck roof tiles weighing 4kg each clean off and can even break the bowers of trees.
Will he keep fighting? After all these years, though vexed, Adams is also jaded.
“You won’t win. How can you win a fight with a hand tied behind your back? I just take what the airport can give me and keep my mouth shut.”
The meeting will commence at 6pm tonight (10th February 2020).