Campaigners say UK airport expansion plans must be suspended amid new climate goals

In letter to ministers, groups say aviation strategy needed after sector included in binding climate targets

The UK government must suspend all airport expansion plans until it sets out how they fit with its legally binding climate targets and the advice of its own experts, campaigners have warned.

In a letter to ministers, groups opposing planned expansions at eight airports around the country say the government’s recent decision to include aviation in its binding climate targets mean the expansion plans must be halted.

“Until the government has consulted on its preferred strategy for net zero aviation, and published its policy, it is impossible to see how local authorities or the government could justify any given airport expansion as conforming to binding carbon budgets and targets,” states the letter to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, and Robert Jenrick, the communities and local government secretary.

There are expansions planned at seven airports in England: Leeds Bradford, Luton, Bristol, Southampton, Heathrow, Stansted and Manston – all of which are at various stages in the process. Campaigners are also expecting Gatwick to imminently submit plans to increase capacity.

In December, the government’s own advisers on the climate change committee said there should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity “unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions”.

Ministers have the power to “call in” decisions made at a local level – a process that would allow the national and international climate ramifications of granting permission for the airport to be considered.

Campaigners say it is essential the proposals are halted until the government sets out a comprehensive aviation strategy – expected in the next couple of months.

“Existing policy does not take account of the government’s increased climate ambition for aviation,” the letter states. “Until the government has consulted on its preferred strategy for net zero aviation, and published its policy, it is impossible to see how local authorities or the government could justify any given airport expansion as conforming to binding carbon budgets and targets.”

A government spokesperson said planning decisions should be made at a local level wherever possible, adding: “The power to call in is used very selectively and when requests to call in an application are made ministers will consider the case individually, in line with our published policy.”

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Matthew Taylor

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