Councils were against it. Local people were against it, MPs were against it. Yet the Planning Inspectorate has approved a massive expansion of Bristol Airport from 10 million to 12 million passengers per year, eating into the local green belt and adding an extra 10,000 vehicle movements per day to already congested local roads. That this comes so soon after the COP 26 summit only adds insult to injury. Bristol Airport Action Network has produced a useful guide to debunking some of the greenwashing claims made by the airport.
This is not a case of London overriding the will of the people of Wessex – the Planning Inspectorate is based in Bristol. But it shows that deconcentrating administration – like moving the Treasury to Darlington – is not the same as devolving power. It is the wrong way to level up. Unless decision-makers in the regions – inspectors, mayors, commissioners, or whatever – are free to make different decisions, ones that run counter to the Whitehall view, they are no better than colonial governors. The airport decision sees the centralised state ignoring the concerns of those most directly affected by the expansion in favour of increasing profits for the owners, a Canadian pension fund. Once again, we see the need for a robust local democracy, backed up by a strong regional parliament.