Leeds Bradford Airport expansion could COST region £3.1bn over 26 years, claims think tank

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A think-tank has claimed the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport could cost the region up to £3.1bn in lost economic activity by 2050.

Analysis published by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) claims that the expansion plans do not include the cost to Leeds in lost money from tourists flying out of the region, adding the proposed expansion is ‘not economically wise’.

The report went on to claim the airport’s expansion plan overestimates the amount of new jobs the scheme would create, and does not address the likely reduction in jobs in the aviation sector or its impact on the climate crisis.

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But Leeds Bradford Airport has said the findings of the report are “untrue”, and that ample evidence had been submitted to Leeds City Council showing tourism in the region would not be affected, and that jobs would indeed be supported by the redevelopment.

Will money leave Yorkshire's tourism industry as the NEF believes?Will money leave Yorkshire's tourism industry as the NEF believes?
Will money leave Yorkshire's tourism industry as the NEF believes?

Alex Chapman, consultant at the NEF, said: “The climate change risks of the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport are obvious. What is discussed less is that the economic benefits the scheme claims to create are based on inconsistent and logically flawed economics.

“The proposed jobs will not materialise because the aviation industry is automating, creating less and less jobs, and this trend has just accelerated through the Covid-19 crisis.

“The predicted business benefits are overstated, because businesses are making less and less use of air travel, especially in the fallout from coronavirus.

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“Finally, the airport ignores the negative impacts of incentivising Leeds City Region residents to take cheap flights out of the country, instead of spending their money in the local economy. With the leisure and hospitality industries on their knees, this expansion would damage the local recovery from the Covid pandemic.”

The report added the airport’s economic case for expansion as “selective and logically inconsistent”, particularly regarding whether costs – like noise pollution – or benefits – like new jobs – will be newly created or relocated from elsewhere in the country.

Leeds Bradford Airport’s proposed £150m expansion is would involve building a new so-called “eco-friendly” terminal to accommodate more flights. Leeds City Council decision-makers are expected to rule on the plans over the coming months.

LBA said it had presented a detailed socio-economic report to Leeds City Council with the new terminal’s planning application, which concludes that over 12,000 jobs will be supported by the development, and that this report was compiled by “leading industry experts and has been peer reviewed by Leeds City Council.”

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It added that the report made reference to jobs which “cannot be automated”, such as highly-skilled positions in ground operations, air traffic control, engineering and maintenance.

The spokesperson added: “The findings of this report are untrue. LBA is already an economic hub and the Council’s Local Plan supports the continued development of the Airport. It is, and will continue be, a cornerstone of the regional economy, providing jobs and livelihoods for thousands of people and vital connectivity for Yorkshire’s economy.

“In these difficult times of COVID-19, Yorkshire needs its economy to recover quickly and to thrive. LBA’s plans to modernise can be a key part of that recovery by generating inward investment and attracting international tourists and students. We look forward to helping businesses in our region to meet this demand in the coming decades.

“To say that jobs in aviation are unsustainable is misleading. On the contrary, the sector has jointly committed to becoming net zero by 2050 and there are advances in technologies and fuels on the horizon. We know we have work to do to get there, but the long-term future for sustainable aviation, and the jobs that it will create and sustain, is positive. Leeds as a city will only have the ability to innovative if it enjoys strong connectivity with the rest of the world.”

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The New Economics Foundation is an environmentally-focussed economics think tank. It is a registered charity and is funded by organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Friends of the Earth. You can find a full list of its financial backers here (https://neweconomics.org/about/who-funds-us).