Home News Mayor clashes over Bristol Airport “greenwashing” claims

Mayor clashes over Bristol Airport “greenwashing” claims

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Marvin Rees clashed with the youngest city councillor over “greenwashing” claims that Bristol Airport is becoming carbon neutral – apart from the aeroplanes and cars.

Green Cllr Lily Fitzgibbon asked the mayor at a council meeting how he could justify congratulating the airport on its “net zero” pledge while refusing to oppose its proposed expansion.

Mr Rees dismissed the 18-year-old’s question as “disappointing” and an “old debate” and said the airport’s efforts to improve its environmental impact, announced at a business breakfast he attended at Lulsgate last month, should be welcomed.

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A public inquiry starts later this month into the airport’s appeal against North Somerset Council’s decision to refuse major plans for more flights and passengers.

The airport declared a fortnight ago that it would achieve carbon neutrality four years early and that it would be the UK’s first net-zero airport by 2030, along with expanding public transport to the site and having zero-emission buses.

Bishopston & Ashley Down ward Cllr Fitzgibbon told the Labour mayor at Bristol City Council member forum on Tuesday, July 6: “It was interesting to see that you’re involved enough to attend stakeholder meetings and welcome their plans but not enough to hold an opinion on the expansion.

“So I would like to ask you again, will you use your position, which is not insignificant in the wider region, to stand against the largest carbon decision in the South West?”

Mr Rees replied: “This is such a disappointing question. It’s an old debate.

“What I said was any organisation, no matter where they are in the spectrum of how harmful or not we think they are to the planet, that ups the commitment they make to decarbonising, not only their own areas which they control but the areas over which they have influence, has to be celebrated.

“If it was a steel industry saying ‘We are going to come up with a more efficient way of making steel’, we wouldn’t say ‘stop making steel’, we would say ‘congratulations for moving forward in your efforts to decarbonise steel’.

“We say the same about concrete and housebuilding, we say the same about the airport.”



Bristol Airport public transport

In a written reply he added: “The appeal is a matter for the secretary of state, who is ruling on a planning matter previously decided by the democratic decision of North Somerset Council. I am not involved.”

Cllr Fitzgibbon told the meeting at City Hall: “By not including the emissions from the planes or traffic to the airport, it completely outweighs any commitments they’ve made through their building itself.

“So while you may be able to remove yourself from the debate through boundaries, Bristolians will actually not be able to avoid the impact of an extra million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere directly above the city.

“I would like to know how you could have such an inspiring vision for Bristol to be a green city leading the way to 2030 carbon targets and how you reconcile those two opposing visions.”

The city’s mayor said: “The airport is the airport. The airport is not an aeroplane.



Green Cllr Lily Fitzgibbon at Bristol City Council member forum in City Hall

“The airport is running its services, its buildings, its ground transport networks, its influences and its journeys to and from the airport to manage an existing international industry.

“The extent to which the airport can decarbonise its bit of that industry and try to extend that influence over other bits of the industry it’s a part of, we should encourage them and encourage them to do more.”

In a written question to member forum, Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Brown told Mr Rees: “The operations of the airport cannot be seen in isolation from the traffic to and from it, both on the ground and in the air.

“Has he discussed this council’s opposition to the airport’s expansion, as per the motion passed in December with support from his group, with the management of the airport?”

The mayor replied: “The motion did not ask me to discuss anything with the airport management.”



Bristol mayor Marvin Rees answers a question from Green councillor Barry Parsons at member forum ahead of a full council meeting on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees at member forum on Tuesday

In a press release issued by Bristol Airport about its carbon goals on June 25, Mr Rees said: “I welcome Bristol Airport’s ambition to drive carbon neutrality and environmental sustainability into the heart of its future, and to show leadership on how the sector can green its impact and deliver on testing carbon goals.

“In an increasingly interconnected world, we must harness technology and innovation to reach our goal of carbon neutrality.

“Bristol’s aerospace sector is well placed to continue to lead on solutions to this challenge.”

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