Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
A public inquiry is to be held into the decision to allow the building of a new £150m terminal building at Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA).
The project would see existing buildings demolished to make way for the new 366,000 sq ft (34,000 sq m) three-storey terminal.
LBA’s planning application was approved by Leeds City Council on March 22, 2021. But campaigners, as well as both Labour and Tory MPs, supported calls for a public inquiry.
However, a document confirms that the current secretary of state Michael Gove has chosen to set up a public inquiry into the decision.
A communication from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities stated that matters which Mr Gove “particularly wishes to be informed about” include “The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with Government policies for Protecting Green Belt Land.”
It also listed: “The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with Government policies for meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change.
“The extent to which the proposed development is consistent with the
development plan for the area.”
What opponents say
The move has been welcomed by both MPs and campaigners.
Chris Foren, chairman of Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport, said:
“We’re very pleased with Mr Gove’s decision. It means that all of the consequences of LBA expansion will be properly considered by experienced planning experts.
“Airport expansion is obviously inconsistent with tackling the climate crisis. Scientists have repeatedly said that we must cut all our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 to prevent a climate catastrophe. If LBA expands, its emissions would double.
“Thanks to the thousands of people who donated to GALBA’s campaign, we will be able to use experts in planning law, climate science, health and economics to explain to the inquiry why LBA expansion cannot be allowed. We will present evidence to show that expansion would also damage the health of our communities, from the additional noise and air pollution.”
A long-time opponent of the plans is Leeds Northwest MP Alex Sobel, whose constituency houses the airport.
He said: “I wrote to the Secretary of State to call this application in when the decision was first made and pleased an inspector will now look at the application.
“The inspector needs to look at The Committee on Climate Change recommendations on aviation and the need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 for flights.”
It is not yet known when the public inquiry will take place, but the communication from Government concludes: “The Secretary of State hereby directs the council not to grant planning permission, without specific authorisation, for any development which is the same kind as that which is the subject of the application referred to above on any land which forms part of, or includes, the site to which the application relates until the Secretary of State has issued his decision on this application.”
Airport chief ‘disappointed’ – argues proposals are ‘robust’
The airport claimed the replacement building would be a more efficient and sustainable development, helping it to achieve its carbon net-zero goals by 2023.
Vincent Hodder, CEO of Leeds Bradford Airport, said:
“While we are disappointed to see this decision taken after 10 months of deliberation, we remain convinced in the economic, environmental and customer service cases for our replacement terminal. Our proposals are robust and we are committed to being an outstanding airport for passengers.
“We hope this decision does not signal a lost opportunity to level up the North of England. The plans not only comply with national and regional legislation, but also present a faster way for us to meet our Net Zero Strategy and a welcome boost for the UK tourism industry to bounce back from the Pandemic.
“Our aim with this development has always been to bring the flight operating procedures of LBA in line with other UK and European airports – which are nearly 30 years old – overhaul surface access solutions and deliver a level of passenger experience the Leeds City Region is striving to achieve. Blocking these changes would limit all of this and the region’s ambitions to become a modern, vibrant European city, attractive to the rest of the world as a place to invest.
“We look forward to hearing the final decision in due course.”
A further statement from a Leeds Bradford Airport spokesperson said the move was “disappointing”, and that the new airport would be more environmentally friendly than a previous version of the plans which had already been approved.
It stated: “We are disappointed that the Secretary of State has called in plans for what would be a highly sustainable replacement terminal building, designed to a BREAAM Excellent rating, at Leeds Bradford Airport.
“Our proposals are robust and have the potential to boost the local economy at a time we need it most, generating more than 5,000 jobs and almost £500 million to the local economy. If the Government is serious about its levelling up plan, we cannot overlook this chance to turbocharge the recovery of the region.
“Leeds City Council’s Local Plan and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership’s Strategic Economic Plan support the continued development of LBA.
“While we already have consent to grow LBA’s existing terminal, consent for a replacement terminal would allow us to achieve the same, in a more sustainable way, with a smaller physical footprint.
“Our scheme does not impact upon Leeds City Council’s ability to meet its climate emergency commitments and was never about passenger growth, which we already have consent to deliver against.
“We are confident our proposals meet with legislation and look forward to hearing the Secretary of State’s decision in due course.”
Public inquiry date to be set
While the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities did not issue a further statement, it confirmed the Housing Minister had decided to call in the application, and that a public inquiry will now be held, the arrangement for which “will be made shortly and details advertised locally”.
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “The council has today received notification from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities that the Secretary of State has decided to call in planning application number 20/02559/FU for a replacement terminal and modifications to flight times at Leeds Bradford Airport.
“A local inquiry by an inspector will now be held, at a date to be arranged by the Planning Inspectorate. At the inquiry the council will be setting out the position resolved by councillors on the City Plans Panel following its full consideration of all material matters in March 2021.”
Leeds Bradford Airport plans – the story so far
Plans for the £150m Leeds Bradford Airport rebuild first emerged in 2019, with more detailed plans being published the following year.
The rebuild, plans stated, would include a new “state of the art” terminal, as well as new parking and access facilities, and had a target of 2023 for opening. LBA hoped the number of annual flights could increase from four million to seven million in the coming decades.
Plans were also included to modify flight time controls, and to extend the the daytime flight period, with a likely increase from five to 17 flights between 6pm and 7am.
The application claimed the current terminal – parts of which date back to the 1960s – is ‘dated’ and ‘inefficient’, warning it could lose passengers to nearby Manchester Airport unless the improvements are approved.
But the plans proved controversial, as many objectors, including climate scientists, transport experts and residents’ groups, warned such an expansion would contribute towards catastrophic climate change, as well as unbearable noise pollution for those living nearby.
During a pre-application meeting in January 2020, in which councillors were able to ask questions about early forms of the plans, protesters staged a ‘die-in’, during which they fell to the floor and lying still until the meeting was suspended.
Despite this, a full planning application was eventually submitted to the council.
Following a mammoth eight-hour debate on Leeds City Council’s city plans panel on February, 11, 2021, councillors voted by nine votes to five to agree to the expansion plans in principle.
Campaigners, as well as both Labour and Tory MPs, supported calls for a public inquiry.
On April 6, 2021, the then-communities secretary Robert Jenrick postponed making a decision on this request, giving no timescale, and leaving the future of the plans in limbo.
The state of flux has lasted until today, it seems, as communities secretary Michael Gove has requested the application be called in and examined by planning experts so that he can make a final decision on its future.