Regional climate plans should break the silence on Leeds Bradford Airport expansion

Senior West Yorkshire politicians have called for a regional transport body to break its silence on air travel and its impact on the environment.

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 11:30 am
PIC: PA

Both Labour and Green councillors said the new climate and environment plan for West Yorkshire should make mention of the planned expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport, and that such a move would “blow the doors off” the regional carbon budget.

The combined authority, which covers the local council areas of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Calderdale and Kirklees, has a target to be carbon net zero economy by 2038 “at the latest”, with “significant progress” made by 2030.

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Its latest plans suggest ideas such as ground source heat pumps, as well as pushing members of the public towards walking, cycling and electrified public transport – but says little about aviation.

The discussion comes amid the mystery surrounding the future of the planned £150m Leeds Bradford Airport expansion, which was approved by a Leeds City Council planning committee earlier this year, but has since been paused by Government.

A senior Kirklees councillor went on to claim that the West Yorkshire Pension Fund, which looks after the retirement monies of all local authority workers, has invested in the company which owns LBA.

Coun Neil Walshaw (Lab) is chair of the Leeds City Council climate emergency committee.

Speaking during a meeting of WYCA’s climate emergency and environment committee, he mentioned next month’s international Cop26 climate summit.

He added: “We’re having this meeting in a state of COP limbo. There has not been any heavy lifting yet, so I’m hoping next year is going to bring a flood of announcements.

“The airport expansion blows the doors off the carbon budget. In Bristol, their combined authority has taken a stance against the airport. I wonder what that would mean for us.

“Airport expansion is incompatible. We need a much better heavy rail option. but we need to have a view on aviation – we can’t avoid it.

“We are now at the tender mercies of Michael Gove – and we have no further information, because he is in COP limbo as well.

“As a combined authority, we need to have an aviation position at some point soon.”

WYCA’s director of policy, strategy and communications Alan Reiss said there was a “difficult trade-off” between the economic and environmental benefits of whether or not to expand the airport.

He added: “The Mayor and combined authority has no authority over the planning application, and we are waiting for a decision the same as Leeds City Council are.”

LBA’s planning application for a new £150m terminal was approved by Leeds City Council on March 22. But campaigners, as well as both Labour and Tory MPs supported calls for a public inquiry.

On April 6, the then communities secretary Robert Jenrick postponed making a decision on this request, giving no timescale, and leaving the future of the plans in limbo. Michael Gove has since taken over Mr Jenrick’s role, but it is still not known when a decision will be made.

Committee member and sustainability expert Prof Simon Pringle said: “[The airport is] absent from the plan and opens up a potential integrity gap.

“There may very well be a disconnect between the policy the combined authority takes and that of other organisations. The silence is reasonably glaring at the moment and it will be more so if those gaps open up.”

Coun Andrew Cooper is leader of Kirklees Council’s Green Party group. He added: “People are finding political space to say things about pensions and pension plans. Our council is asking the WY pension fund not to put money into fossil fuels. Another area it invests in is in the company that owns LBA.”

Leeds City Council currently has a target of 2030 for itself to be carbon net zero.

According to the draft plan, latest data indicates West Yorkshire’s emissions equates to 4.7 tonnes of CO2 per person.

It is thought emissions in the region fell by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2019 but, despite falling dramatically in homes and businesses, transport emissions did not see the same impressive results.

The document stated that although emissions had been falling, if current policies were continued, it would still only achieve a “fraction” of the reductions needed. It sets out a number of possible approaches as to how the reductions might be achieved.

Measures suggested in an electricity-focussed approach include a “rapid uptake of electric vehicles”, alongside “significant” behaviour change from both industry and individuals.

A large shift would also be needed from private car use to cycling, walking and electrified public transport, as well as a wide-scale retrofit of buildings, with an “ambitious rollout of heat pumps and heat networks.”

It added: “[There would need to be a] significant upscaling of solar, onshore wind, smart and flexible energy solutions, and potentially carbon capture and storage.”

Another possibility, known as the “High Hydrogen Pathway” includes plans to develop hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, particularly for HGVs.

It stated: “[Measures would include] a conversion of the natural gas grid to hydrogen and for nearly half of the regions’ homes to be heated by a hydrogen boiler. Installation of hybrid heat pumps and energy efficiency measures in advance of hydrogen being available.”

Writing in the plan’s draft document, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said: “The climate and environment emergency is a real and present danger, affecting our health and wellbeing today. We can’t have a fair, just and inclusive recovery from Covid-19 unless we address the impact of climate change and nature in decline.

“West Yorkshire’s five councils and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority have all committed to reach net zero carbon emissions well before the Government’s target date of 2050.

“Prioritising good, green jobs, and investing in skills and training for young people to do them have been some of my key pledges as Mayor for our region’s economic recovery. Both will be vital to achieve our commitment to a fair, just and lasting recovery for all of West Yorkshire.”

The plans were approved by the committee and will go before a full West Yorkshire Combined Authority meeting on Friday, November 22 for full approval.

By Richard Beecham , Local Democracy Reporting Service

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