The expansion of Leeds Bradford airport has been put on hold after the government paused plans to build a new terminal building on the green belt.
The plans were given conditional approval by Leeds city council in February despite widespread opposition from local MPs, residents and environmental groups.
Campaigners argued the expansion would make a mockery of efforts to tackle the climate crisis and undermine the government’s credibility ahead of a key climate conference later this year.
On Tuesday the government issued a direction to Leeds city council preventing councillors from granting planning permission without special authorisation.
The direction – set out in section 31 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 – will give further time to Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, to consider whether to formally “call in” the planning application.
As secretary of state, he has powers to take the decision-making power on a planning application out of the hands of the local planning authority by calling it in for his own determination.
If a planning application is called in, there will be a public inquiry chaired by a planning inspector, or lawyer, who would make a recommendation to the secretary of state. Jenrick can reject these recommendations if he wishes and would take the final decision.
Jenrick recently used the powers to intervene in plans to build a new coalmine off the Cumbrian coast.
The same lawyers who took on the government over the mine wrote to Jenrick asking him to do the same with the Leeds Bradford airport
“[The] expansion would commit the UK to decades of increased carbon emissions, against the Climate Change Committee’s advice,” barrister Estelle Dehon argued earlier this year, acting on behalf of the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (Galba). “As with the proposed Cumbrian coalmine, allowing this in the year we host Cop26 undermines the UK’s ambition to lead on the climate crisis.”
In a statement, Galba said: “Over the last few weeks we have had environmental groups, community groups, MPs, scientists and literally thousands of local people, writing directly to [Jenrick] asking for a public inquiry, and many more thousands have signed a petition. We hope that the delay is a sign that [he] is taking those requests very seriously. Leeds city council has refused to accept the responsibility to safeguard the health of the planet and future generations and a consequence the ball is in [Jenrick’s] court. He must take that responsibility and order a public inquiry.”
Supporters of the project say the airport expansion would boost the local economy by hundreds of millions of pounds and support thousands of new jobs.
They argue the contested proposal is not about expansion but delivering a cleaner, greener terminal building to support a hoped-for increase in passengers from 4 million to 7 million people a year by 2030.
A spokesperson for Leeds Bradford airport, said: “We acknowledge the deadline extension and hope that the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government will uphold Leeds city council’s approval for our replacement terminal, which will deliver thousands of new jobs and support the region’s economy. Our proposals will deliver the UK’s most efficient terminal building, enabling us to become a net zero airport, building back better and enhancing connectivity within the UK and internationally.”
A spokesperson for Leeds city council said: “We have been informed today by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that the secretary of state will take some additional time to consider the Leeds Bradford airport planning application.
“The application is a complex one and has generated a significant amount of interest at both a local and national level. We await the secretary of state’s decision in due course.”
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