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Ecologists urge Leeds Council to halt Watson Batty Architects’ airport expansion

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Watson Batty Architects’ Leeds Bradford Airport expansion will have to be blocked if the city’s climate change targets are to be met, university of Leeds academics have warned

The Leeds-based practice was commissioned in 2018 to design a new arrivals extension, departure pier and internal remodelling as part of a £12.5 million expansion of the West Yorkshire airport.

However critics say the expansion sits uncomfortably with Leeds City Council’s recent declaration of a climate emergency and its commitment to emitting no more than 42 megatonnes of CO2 from 2018 until 2050.

The council said it would make Leeds carbon neutral by 2030, though it is not clear if they intend to include flight emissions from the calculation.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have argued expanding the airport will double the number of passengers by 2030 and undermine any chance of Leeds cutting its carbon emissions.

Jefim Vogel and Yannick Oswald, both PhD researchers in ecological economics, and Joel Millward-Hopkins, a postdoctoral researcher in sustainability, warned that Leeds City Council shouldn’t pass the buck on airport expansion. 

’The city’s targets sit uncomfortably alongside plans to expand Leeds Bradford Airport,’ they wrote in a joint piece in the Conversation.

The academics say that the airport expansion will result in double the permitted emissions for the whole of Leeds and instead there should be radical cuts in passenger numbers.

’If cut in half by 2022 and 75 per cent by 2030, the flights of Leeds residents alone would use up 8 per cent of the city’s carbon budget. This might be just low enough to squeeze all other activities in Leeds into the remaining carbon budget – if these are also radically decarbonised.’

Vogel told Leeds Live that the council should do ’whatever they can to stop the airport expansion.’

However, a Leeds City Council spokesperson said the airport was a private enterprise that has decided to expand and there was no ‘lawful reason’ to refuse planning permission. 

’The climate emergency advisory committee is discussing the airport later this year in the light of the climate emergency and will produce a series of recommendations to executive board on how to the council should respond to and interact with this expansion.’

Leeds Bradford Airport said it had reduced CO2 emissions for airport operations by 45 per cent in the past five years. An airport spokesperson said the extension project was entering a more detailed design phase and would be ready to discuss this in a couple of weeks. 

The airport’s CEO, Hywel Rees, said: ’The UK aviation sector is undergoing a sea-change and we are confident in its view, as outlined in its 2018 CO2 Road-map, that the adoption of newer, cleaner and quieter aircraft, and improved passenger procedures, will help accommodate growth in air travel in the UK without a substantial increase in CO2.’

Watson Batty Architects declined to comment.

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