By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
A leading climate activist has written to the head of Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) over fears it’s trying to ditch its night flight limit.
Charity leader Katie White, who received an OBE in 2013 for services to climate change engagement, claimed there will be “significant environmental impacts” from the airport’s plans.
LBA applied for a series of certificates of lawful development from Leeds City Council earlier this month, which effectively asked for confirmation it’s allowed to run supposedly quieter planes at night.
It comes just three months after bosses had to apologise for breaching its quota of night-time flights during the 2022 summer season.
Campaigners claim the latest move could result in “unlimited” night-time flying if the certificates are issued, but the airport denies this is and insists it’s only trying to “clarify” what rules it is bound by.
But in the letter to airport CEO Vincent Hodder, which has also been signed by several councillors from the Horsforth and Otley areas covered by flight paths, Ms White wrote: “Night flying has become a very contentious issue locally.
“We note that having only recently (June of this year) received an apology from you for breaching planning conditions, residents are incredibly concerned about the recent “clarification” which it is believed may lead to a consistent increase in night flights.
“We understand you are proposing that night flying is just for quieter planes. Can you clarify which of the current planes that fly out of Leeds Bradford airport will not meet the criteria for “quieter” planes?”
There’s been criticism of the way the airport has approached the matter. Campaigners have said LBA should have submitted an application to vary its planning conditions, which would have allowed members of the public to comment ahead of a decision.
Certificates of lawful development do not offer the public the same entitlement.
The letter added: “We further note that the developer has failed to apply to vary the relevant planning conditions but rather sought to do so in effect, but via a different route, namely a certificate of lawful use.
“We are concerned that this route seeks to circumvent important procedural safeguards in planning law and query its legality.”
A spokesman for the airport confirmed it would respond to the letter personally, but declined to comment any further.
The council has said it legally has to make a decision on whether or not to approve the certificates by November 1.
The letter in full
Dear Mr Hodder,
The residents of Leeds have had a long and fruitful relationship with Leeds Bradford Airport, enjoying the opportunities for travel as well as benefitting from the jobs created in our local economy.
However, any meaningful relationship has to be built on mutual trust.
We are writing with concerns which we believe have the potential to significantly damage that trust.
Night flying has become a very contentious issue locally.
We note that having only recently (June of this year) received an apology from you for breaching planning conditions, residents are incredibly concerned about the recent “clarification” which it is believed may lead to a consistent increase in night flights.
We understand you are proposing that night flying is just for quieter planes. Can you clarify which of the current planes that fly out of Leeds Bradford airport will not meet the criteria for “quieter” planes?
We further note that the developer has failed to apply to vary the relevant planning conditions but rather sought to do so in effect, but via a different route, namely a certificate of lawful use. We are concerned that this route seeks to circumvent important procedural safeguards in planning law and query its legality. Please can you confirm that this is not the case?
We believe that any proposed changes should have been subjected to an environmental impact assessment (under Schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations 2017) since the changes are, in effect, an extension of the development (as regards use). There are reasonable grounds to believe that the changes to night flights may have significant environmental impacts (on the basis that most modern aircraft would meet the standards you propose) thereby significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions (for example). Please confirm whether the council has adopted a screening decision in relation to the application for the certificate?
You will be familiar with the judgment in Hatton and Others v. the United Kingdom. The ECtHR made clear that night flights engaged Article 8 ECHR and relied heavily on the robustness of the decision-making process (including monitoring of impacts and detailed analysis of health impacts in relation to Heathrow in particular) to reach the conclusion that it did. We struggle to see that robustness is replicated here either in terms of evidence base or public participation such as it is in relation to the application for the certificate. Accordingly any decision to grant the certificate by the Local Authority subject to the process currently envisaged seems to us to be at risk of legal challenge.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Katie White OBE, Climate Campaigner
Ray Jones, Leeds City Councillor for Horsforth
Emmie Bromley, Leeds City Councillor for Horsforth
John Garvani, Leeds City Councillor for Horsforth
Jamie Hanley, Chairman of Leeds Trinity University and Legal Director of the GMB Union
John Eveleigh, Former Mayor of Otley
Simon Dowling, Horsforth Town Councillor
Gill Garvani, Horsforth Town Councillor
Andy Wishart, Horsforth Town Councillor
Aiden Goulden, Horsforth Town Councillor
Mark Fletcher, Horsforth Town Councillor
Francesca Gains, Horsforth Town Councillor
Eddie Hyndes, Horsforth Town Councillor
Julio Tumalan, Horsforth Town Councillor
Becky Cousins, Horsforth Town Councillor
Dave Brosnan, Horsforth Town Councillor
Simon Ellis, Local Resident
Nigel Gill, Otley Town Councillor
Richard Davies, Otley Town Councillor
Airport denies ‘unlimited’ night flight claims
Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) has denied claims it wants to run an unlimited number of night-time flights.
Campaigners and local councillors fear applications submitted by LBA to Leeds City Council earlier this month would allow them to have supposedly quieter planes taking off and landing between 11pm and 7am.
Suggestions that approval of the applications would effectively free the airport of the strict cap on night-time flights it breached last summer were put to LBA, who said: “We have not submitted an application to operate an unlimited number of night flights at LBA.
“The certificate of lawfulness of existing use or development submissions are part of a process to clarify how the existing planning permission, which was originally consented nearly 30 years ago, should operate now.
“We are in ongoing, constructive dialogue with Leeds City Council to reach an agreed consensus on the issue.”
The original conditions the airport says it is seeking clarity on were imposed by the local authority in 2007.
Those conditions effectively banned planes above a certain noise threshold from running at night.
Two of the airport’s five applications, which have been submitted as certificates of lawful development, ask for the council to confirm the airport has “immunity from enforcement” if planes beneath a specificied noise threshold run at night.
A third asks for confirmation that, similarly, aircraft with a specific type of noise level is not among those banned at night.
Speaking earlier this month, Otley and Yeadon’s Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Campbell claimed if the applications were approved, it would “allow them to exempt the majority of planes from the quota and in effect have unlimited night-time flying.”
Campaigners Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA), who first reported LBA to the council for breaching its night-time flight cap last summer, were also heavily critical.
A spokesperson said: “GALBA is angry to learn that LBA’s bosses want to change the rules on night-time flying simply because they can’t stick to the current rules.
“Their changes would mean many, many more planes flying at night, damaging peoples’ health and damaging our climate.”
Certificates of lawful development are different to planning applications, in that they are awarded to applicants to clarify whether or not a development or practice is within the rules.
Unlike planning applications, they are not subject to public consultation or advertisement.
Leeds City Council has said it will make a ruling on the applications by November 1.