Keep proper journalism alive. It's time to Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

We need international alliances to stop airport expansions

Behind Bristol’s planned airport expansion is a Canadian pension fund. Activists must join forces and take the fight to the largest private investor in European airports.

Photo: Sugscott


Bristol Airport is big enough. For years, the voices of communities – and many politicians – across the South West have been clear and united in opposition to its application to expand. And yet the case rumbles on.

Other communities around Europe tell similar stories, which is why I’m now working with these groups to take this fight straight to the hidden headquarters of many of our airports: the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP).

I like to learn about solutions. Positive initiatives for people and the planet. But while we strive to bring good into the world, it’s just as vital that we call time on the bad. The case of Bristol Airport encapsulates the latter perfectly.

Today, Bristol Airport, with around 9 million passengers annually, already provides enough capacity for everyone in the west of England to take four return journeys every year. An expanded airport would see passenger numbers rise to 12 million, belching out the equivalent of an extra 1.4m tonnes CO2 – an annual impact bigger than the whole city of Bristol

Put another way, the expansion would make all of our efforts to reduce our own environmental impacts nigh-on pointless. Undoubtedly, this is our region’s biggest single climate decision. 

I could go on to describe in detail the multitude of other reasons why these plans merit opposition. It would be quite the voyage, covering misleading statements, the plight of the protected horseshoe bat, and the mental and physical health of communities affected by pollution. But people really don’t need convincing.

This case has been a rare unifying cause for the region. Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) – a coalition of parish councils, campaigners, and aviation academics – has spearheaded a creative campaign. Their actions have committed politicians at all levels, of all stripes, from across the region into opposition. Alongside thousands of written objections, BAAN’s activity evidences overwhelming community opposition.

This opposition was underpinned by North Somerset council’s “historic” decision to reject the application in February 2020 by a large majority.  But on appeal, three government planning inspectors decided all that opposition means nothing. 

‘Local people’s concerns have to count for something’

How can this be? The basis for their decision – that economic benefits outweigh environmental damage – is demonstrably untrue. And I’m furious. 

But I won’t be sitting back. The concerns of local people have to mean something, and this new setback sees citizen groups preparing on all fronts. BAAN have crowdfunded the legal costs to dispute the Planning Inspectorate’s decision, and now an international effort is taking on the investors at the heart of it all. 

To understand this last strategy, we must understand that the airport company is a puppet answering directly to the OTPP. OTPP, which campaigners have accused of being a “corporate psychopath”, is the 100% owner of Bristol Airport and sole beneficiary of its expansion. While Bristol Airport made hundreds of redundancies in 2020, the Pension Plan registered record profits in 2021.

OTPP has stakes in Bristol, Birmingham, London City, Brussels, and Copenhagen airports, making it the largest private investor in European airports. Most of these airports have disputed expansion plans. It may claim to be a “responsible” investor but it’s clear that its actions are not in the interests of local communities, nor Ontario’s teachers.

This case demonstrates the disconnect which enables the global economy to sustain short-term profits through exploitation. Like the UK, Ontario has seen many climate protests in recent years, and Ontario teachers are worried about how their pensions will impact their students’ futures. And yet, OTPP’s goal of endless double-digit growth is driving forward airport expansion plans across Europe, which local people have fiercely opposed.

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning

Therein lies an opportunity. When an investor pulled out of Heathrow, its expansion plans were thrown into uncertainty. I thought: what if OTPP publicly withdrew its support of airport expansions? Disruption like that can throw a project off for good.

While this thinking isn’t particularly new, what is new is the collaboration between groups resisting OTPP-owned airports: a united international front for co-ordinated actions and communications. We are building a global coalition of activists striving for a better world. From anti-expansion group CPH Uden Udvidelse and Bevar Jordforbindelsen in Copenhagen to HACAN East in London, we are building a global coalition of activists striving for a better world. We are demonstrating the interconnected, extractive features of capital – connecting geographically distant communities to acknowledge common enemies and support each other’s struggles. My head buzzes with the potential.

This international collaboration is just taking off. We’ve got interested parties, a strong case, and the seeds of a compelling strategy. With the court case ongoing, we can’t know which mechanism will ultimately be successful. All we know is that the resistance won’t let up until Bristol Airport’s expansion is put to bed once and for all. Will you be a part of it?

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • Work on this international side co-ordinated through ‘Bristol Airport is Big Enough BABE’ – get in touch through fb or twitter if you’re interested in getting involved :)


    • I was very impressed by your article in the previous Cable about airport expansion and believe that BAAN could use the power of Trade Unions, especially our teaching unions, to persuade the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund to disinvest from airports.Teachers anywhere would not want to invest in anything that harms children’ development and there is no doubt that the increased traffic, air pollution and noise caused by Bristol Airport harm children who live or go to school in parts of South Bristol and North Somerset. As a life long trade unionist I would be happy to assist in this.


  • Good stuff Tess.
    What is the official line from the Canadian teachers Union?.
    Are they against the investment in airports and can they influence the pension funds actions?


  • Hi Tess, a few of us from the NEU are coordinating a campaign, it works be great to have you on board! Please email to get involved!


Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

This week in Bristol: Airport expansion granted by High Court – but campaigners vow to fight on

Expansion would see the airport increase its capacity from 10 million to 12 million passengers per year.

Bristol Airport expansion appeal decision pending. Win or lose, campaigners are making an impact by playing the long game.

The Cable was in court for the latest chapter in the long-running legal saga, and joined Bristol Airport Action Network for a drink when all was said and done.

Bristol Airport expansion case highlights loopholes in national climate policy, say campaigners

Lawyers bringing the anti-expansion case to the High Court want to emphasise that no one is considering the cumulative impact of regional airport expansions.

West of England leaders vote to oppose Bristol Airport expansion, but Bristol abstains

Standing in for Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees was his deputy Craig Cheney, who did not contribute to the discussion and abstained from the vote.

‘Airport expansion in an age of climate crisis is a moral decision. Anything else is greenwashing’

Steve Clarke, an anti-expansion campaigner, takes on the airport's arguments from the week when the inquiry focused on the climate crisis.

Watch: Final fight over Bristol Airport expansion begins

Amid council infighting and climate inaction, a public inquiry starts on the South West's biggest climate decision. Priyanka Raval speaks to activists and local politicians to try and untangle how the inquiry works and who is throwing their hat into the ring.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning