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4:07 PM 9th June 2020

An Open Letter From Leeds Academics - Why We Are Against The Expansion Of Leeds Bradford Airport

The following is the text of an open letter concerning the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford airport.

An economic recovery based on sustainability is the only way we can address the post Covid-19 challenges ahead - and the wider challenge of climate change.

We call on Leeds City Council to lead the way, and reject the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport


The Covid-19 epidemic has exposed just how vulnerable we are as individuals and as a society. It has caused immense suffering, pushed our health service to the brink and shredded our economy. It is an unmitigated human disaster. But the next crisis, the climate crisis, will be far worse, unless we make the right decisions now.

Huge investment is needed to get the economy back on its feet, but we simply cannot afford to return to ‘business as usual’. We cannot afford to prop up the carbon emitting industries that will hasten climate breakdown. We need a low-carbon recovery supported by central government. But we also call on Yorkshire councils, unions and businesses to take the lead. In Leeds, the City Council can start by rejecting the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA), an expansion that would double carbon emissions from flights, and make it impossible for the city to meet its carbon reduction target. LBA does not represent value for money in terms of an employment centre. Larger employment gains, as well as other benefits, are more likely to be created from investing in the local economy.

While LBA’s owners have consistently drawn attention to the low carbon credentials of the new terminal building, this is a ‘grain of sand’ compared to greenhouse gas emissions from the aircraft. And now researchers at Leeds University have found that the planning application submitted by LBA has grossly minimised the impact of aircraft emissions – by at least a factor of 4.

This has been achieved by:

1. Looking at departures only, and ignoring arrivals, for the proposed extra flights, so half of the passengers have been omitted.

2. Not accounting at all for the large global warming effect of non-CO2 emissions at altitude.

4. Ignoring the cumulative effect of emissions beyond 2030, despite CO2 staying in the atmosphere for many decades.

5. Omitting international flights (more than 90% of the flight emissions associated with LBA) when comparing them to national carbon targets and to the Leeds Zero Carbon Roadmap.

6. Exaggerating future efficiency improvements in aviation compared to what the UK Committee on Climate Change considers plausible.

There are no low-emission aviation technologies available now, and none will be available within the timescales available to combat climate breakdown, meaning that any expansion of aviation goes against the UK’s net-zero goal. This is the reason the UK Court of Appeal refused Heathrow’s third runway, and it holds just as strongly for LBA’s expansion. The imperative of reducing carbon emissions and preventing dangerous climate change, strongly supported by the Leeds Citizens Jury on Climate Change, should be recognized by Leeds City Council. As Leeds MP Alex Sobel has stated: “A net increase of pollution from the airport due to an increase of flights will undermine the city in its policy to meet net zero carbon by 2030 and will impact the air quality.”

Instead, we need to invest in a fairer, local and sustainable economy - one that can safeguard our long-term future. Many projects, such as home insulation and electric charging points, are ready to go and they have been shown to create more jobs, deliver higher returns and lead to increased long-term cost savings.

Leeds City Council could provide support and funding for co-operatives and community businesses in activities such as renewables and home retrofit. These offer the potential for large employment gains and will address inequalities by locking wealth into inner city communities. If employment is localised, then travel to work will be minimised and this would also address other pressing issues around air quality and public health issues around inactivity. By contrast, LBA does not offer these benefits nor represent value for money. There is also very limited evidence that the airport site offers any kind of trickle down or local economic benefit. The associated transport infrastructure is incomplete, poorly sited and likely to produce greater reliance on car based journeys.

It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions we make in the next few months will have a profound impact on our lives, and those of our children, for thousands of years. A low-carbon economic recovery can repair the economic damage done by Covid-19 and put the world on track to tackle climate breakdown. This is a pivotal moment and we urge central and local government to put sustainability at the heart of the post Covid recovery.

The letter has been welcomed by GALBA (Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport) with the following announcement to the press:

In a dramatic development of the argument about the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport 90 academics have signed a letter calling on Leeds City Council to block the plans. They say expansion would make the climate crisis worse and that LBA have vastly underestimated the amount of climate damaging emissions that would be caused by expansion.

They also call on Yorkshire Councils, businesses and Trade Unions to support a sustainable recovery from the Covid crisis. They call for investment in a fairer, more sustainable local economy: “one that can safeguard our long-term future”. They say that projects such as home insulation and electric charging points are ready to go, would create more jobs, deliver higher returns and lead to increased long-term cost savings than an expanded airport.

19 of the signatories are professors, with expertise in Earth & Environment, Geography, Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Food & Nutrition, Transport and Chemistry. Professor Julia Steinberger sits on the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) which advises governments around the world how to tackle the climate emergency. The letter comes hot on the heels of objections to airport expansion made by Leeds MPs Alex Sobel, Richard Burgon and Hilary Benn.

Chris Foren, chair of the Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) said: “ We’re very pleased that so many people in the academic community have made this bold and clear statement. I couldn’t put it better than the last line of their letter: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions we make in the next few months will have a profound impact on our lives, and those of our children, for thousands of years. A low-carbon economic recovery can repair the economic damage done by Covid-19 and put the world on track to tackle climate breakdown.’”

Signatories to the letter

1. Professor Julia Steinberger, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds.
2. Professor Paul Chatterton, School Geography, University of Leeds.
3. MSc Jefim Vogel, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
4. Dr Declan Finney, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds
5. Dr Milena Buchs, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds
6. Professor Barbara Evans, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds
7. Dr Ben Rabb, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds
8. Dr Marina Baldissera Pacchetti, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
9. Professor Robert Vanderbeck, School of Geography, University of Leeds
10. Dr. Miklós Antal, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds.
11. Dr Katy Roelich, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
12. Dr Mark Davis, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
13. Dr David Williams, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
14. Professor Daivd York, FREng, School of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Leeds
15. Dr Jennifer Fletcher, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
16. Dr Valerie Dupont, School of chemical and process engineering, the University of Leeds
17. Dr Christian Maerz, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
18. Dr Diana Ivanova, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
19. Professor Oliver Phillips FRS, School of Geography, University of Leeds
20. Dr Noel Cass, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
21. Dr Adam Booth, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
22. Dr Andy Emery, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
23. Dr Siân Evans, Research & Innovation Service, University of Leeds
24. Dr James Smith, School of Food Science & Nutrition, University of Leeds.
25. Dr Sarah Chapman, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds
26. Dr Rory Padfield, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
27. Dr Katy Wright, School of Sociology & Social Policy, University of Leeds
28. Professor Megan Povey, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds
29. Dr Gesa Reiss, School of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds
30. Dr Charlotte Evans, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds
31. Dr George Holmes, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
32. Dr Tom Haines-Doran, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
33. Dr Martin Dallimer, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
34. Professor Mike Kirkby, School of Geography, University of Leeds.
35. Professor Greg Marsden, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds.
36. Dr Robert Newton, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
37. Dr Draško Kašćelan, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds
38. Professor Simon L. Lewis, School of Geography, University of Leeds.
39. Dr Aisling Dolan, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
40. Professor Nick Malleson, School of Geography, University of Leeds
41. Dr Sally Russell, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
42. Dr Dominic O’Key, School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds
43. Dr Natasha Mortimer, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
44. Professor Andy Challinor, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
45. Dr Sarah Batterman, School of Geography, University of Leeds
46. Professor Julia Martin-Ortega, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
47. Dr Cat Scott, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
48. PhD Charlotte Weaver, School of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Leeds
49. Dr Ann-Kristin Koehler, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
50. Professor Mike Pilling, School of Chemistry, University of Leeds
51. Dr Lucie Middlemiss, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
52. Professor Alan Mackie, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds
53. Anna Lewandowska, Research & Innovation Service, University of Leeds
54. Kara Hazelgrave, Research & Innovation Service, University of Leeds
55. Dr Chris Smith, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
56. Dr Natasha Barlow, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
57. Seb O’Connor, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds
58. Dr Jonathan Busch, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds
59. Julia Ankenbrand, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds
60. Dr Jennifer Saxby, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
61. PhD Anya Schlich-Davies, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
62. PhD Sarah Shallcross, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
63. Dr Christopher Lyon, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
64. PhD Josephine McSherry, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
65. Dr. Giulio Mattioli, Department of Transport Planning, TU Dortmund University, & School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds.
66. Professor Sven Schroeder, School of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Leeds
67. Dr Roger Tyers, School of Economic, Social & Political Sciences, University of Southampton
68. PhD Steve Westlake, School of Psychology, Cardiff University
69. Dr Jennifer A. Rudd MChem MRSC, Energy Safety Research Institute, Swansea University
70. Dr Elke Pirgmaier, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds
71. Dr Louise Jennings, School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds
72. Dr Bing Wang, School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies, University of Leeds
73. Hazel Mooney, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds.
74. Dr Maria Beger, School of Biology, University of Leeds
75. PhD Alberto Sanchez-Marroquin, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
76. PhD Lamprini Papafoti, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds
77. Benjamin Jenner, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds
78. Professor Anne Tallontire, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
79. PhD David Barns, School of Chemical & Process Engineering, University of Leeds
80. PHD Ian Sullivan, School of Sociology, University of Leeds
81. Calum Carson, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds
82. Dr Leif Denby, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
83. Associate Professor Dr Sara Gonzalez, School of Geography, University of Leeds
84. Dr Christopher Hassall, School of Biology, University of Leeds
85. Dr Tony Fowkes, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds
86. Dr David Dawson, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds
87. Tim Joubert, School of Geography, University of Leeds
88. PhD Neil McKenna, School of Geography, University of Leeds
89. Professor Alexis Comber, School of Geography, University of Leeds
90. Dr Pepa Ambrosio-Albala, School of Chemical and Process Engineering, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds