A planning application to expand Bristol airport and raise the current cap to 12 million passengers a year has been rejected by councillors on the basis of environmental concerns.

Following an opening debate at a Planning and Regulatory committee meeting of North Somerset Council in which a motion was proposed to refuse the application, councillors voted 18 in support of the move and seven against, with one councillor abstaining.

Councillors were debating a 175-page report in which planning officers recommended approval of expansion on the condition the airport meets certain legal agreements and planning conditions to secure the necessary transport, road and other environmental improvements along with “essential controls” over the hub’s noise footprint and aircraft movements.

However, because the rejection goes against the recommendation, the decision will be held over until a future meeting of the committee for it to be ratified. If the rejection is confirmed, Bristol airport will have six months to lodge an appeal, which would be heard at a public inquiry.

The refusal came after climate activist group Extinction Rebellion staged a three-day protest in objection to the plans.

Announcing the news on Monday evening, councillor Don Davies, leader of North Somerset Council, said: “The airport currently handles just over eight million passengers and can still expand to the 10 million passengers a year limit it already has, so more people will still be able to fly from there and the number of people who work there should not be affected.

“What the committee has considered is that the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to airport expansion. I know some people will be upset by this decision and I am sure that we can reconsider it in future when the airline industry has decarbonised and the public transport links to the airport are far stronger.”

In response, a spokesperson for Bristol airport said: “This decision risks putting the brakes on the region’s economy by turning away airlines who want to serve the South West market, shutting the door to international trade and tourism at a time when the UK needs to show it is open for business.

“By preventing Bristol airport from meeting demand for air travel from within the region it serves, the council will simply exacerbate the situation, which already sees millions of passengers a year from our region drive to London airports in order to fly, creating carbon emissions and congestion in the process.”

Meanwhile, The UK High Court has rejected an appeal against the decision to allow Uttlesford District Council to review plans for expansion at Stansted that were submitted in 2018.

The appeal, which was lodged by the group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), claimed the plans should be considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) despite transport secretary Grant Shapps ruling that this is not the case. SSE chairman Peter Sanders said the NSIP process would be “less expensive and less resource-intensive than a public inquiry”.

The claim was rejected by Justice Dove.

A spokesperson for Stansted airport commented: “This judgement confirms what we, the DfT and MHCLG have said all along – that this application does not raise matters of national significance and should be dealt with and considered properly as any other local planning application. It is deeply regrettable that a significant amount of taxpayers’ money has been wasted in this way.”

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