Words: Richard Beecham, Local Democracy Reporter
Leeds Bradford Airport is one step closer to its £150m rebuild, after a tense meeting of council planning chiefs this week.
Members of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel, which approved plans for the new terminal in principle last month, met to discuss the planning conditions to be faced by developers wanting to rebuild the facility.
A report by council officers claimed the airport could not demolish the whole of its current terminal once the new one was built, as it contains much of the site’s crucial infrastructure. The airport also claimed it had to introduce planned extended flying times before the new terminal was completed for commercial reasons.
While councillors were willing to allow the old building to remain standing for the time being, they vowed to stand firm on only extending the flying times once the new terminal was finished – with one councillor comparing LBA’s request to a supermarket opening to customers before it was built.
Leader of the Leeds Green Party group Coun David Blackburn (Farnley & Wortey) said:
“It seems to me that officers were sent off with a list to talk to the airport, and they have come back with what the airport want to do rather than what the panel asked them to.
“There needs to be recognition from the airport that they need to do their bit when it comes to climate change.”
Coun Paul Wadsworth (Con) said:
“We wouldn’t allow a supermarket to start serving customers when the shop was still only half built.
“The airport do have a reputation for starting things – they have some footings out the front which they started on years ago, and another on the side of the building application we approved.”
The airport had wanted permission to increase flight times before the completion of the new terminal, which would extend the daytime flight period, as well as a likely increase from five to 17 flights between 6am and 7am.
But at a planning meeting last month, members were concerned at the possibility of the airport taking advantage of the new flying times and not building the new terminal.
Since then, LBA offered a compromise to the council, agreeing to only introduce the new flight times one year into the two year building project.
Coun Neil Walshaw (Lab) is the chair of Leeds City Council’s Climate Emergency Committee. He said:
“The paucity of national policy should not preclude us from acting locally.
“The aviation carbon this generates is the significant issue of this, and we have a variety of opinions in how to address this. If members are worried about the impact of our decision-making – the cost to Leeds as a whole of a four or eight degree warming world would far outstrip the costs to the council from the Government’s inspectorate of planning.”
Coun Peter Gruen (Lab) warned that, should members turn down the application having already approved it in principle, the airport could appeal to the government against the decision and would likely win.
He added: “I have no idea whether the secretary of state will be more or less sympathetic – but I do know that when it comes out of our hands, none of the conditions we are applying would necessarily stay.”
Coun Dan Cohen (Con) echoed his concerns, adding:
“In a bid to pacify a deeper commitment to opposing this application, some colleagues are misinterpreting intentionally what our jobs are as plans panel members.
“If we simply keep deferring and deferring and coming back, that is, with respect, an attempt to avoid doing our job.
“If we let this go to appeal, we will lose the appeal, we will be hit with substantial costs, we will radically undermine the integrity of this panel, and we will lose all the conditions we believe are so important.”
Coun Cohen proposed supporting the recommendation to defer and delegate to council officers, subject to the condition that no extra flight times are allowed until the terminal is finished, and a condition to add a hackney carriage taxi rank.
Members of the panel voted in favour of Coun Cohen’s motion, meaning final details will be worked out between LBA and Leeds City Council planning officers before work can start on the site.
In a statement today, Vincent Hodder, CEO of Leeds Bradford Airport, said:
“We are delighted that our plans for a replacement terminal have been awarded planning consent by Leeds City Council, enabling us to become an outstanding net zero airport, delivering a much-improved passenger experience and creating thousands of jobs, helping to support our region’s recovery.
“We would like to thank those that have supported our application through the statutory process and we will be consulting with stakeholders over the coming months on the appropriate next steps.”
Chris Foren, chair of the Leeds-based GALBA group which opposes the plans on environmental grounds, called for a public inquiry and has said the group will mount a legal challenge to the decision. He added:
“Despite councillor after councillor expressing unhappiness at the conditions offered by LBA, it looks like threat of an appeal by the airport was the reason why Leeds City Council’s Plans Panel confirmed its approval of Leeds Bradford Airport’s planning application.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by that decision.
“GALBA remains committed to protecting the health of our climate and our communities by stopping airport expansion. We believe the decision should be considered at a public inquiry where the climate, noise, health and economic impacts can be properly and thoroughly investigated.
“Alternatively, we will challenge the Council’s decision in the courts. We have the resources and the determination to continue our campaign for as long as necessary.”