Environmental concerns scupper expansion plans for OTPP’s Bristol Airport

The local government rejected plans by Britain’s ninth busiest airport to grow its passenger limit from 10 million to 12 million on environmental grounds.

Plans to expand the UK’s Bristol Airport to accommodate 12 million passengers by the middle of the decade have been rejected on the basis of “the detrimental effect” on the local environment, the local government has said.

Britain’s ninth busiest airport, owned 70 percent by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and 30 percent by New South Wales Treasury Corporation and Sunsuper Superannuation Fund, had released a plan in December 2018 to expand the site. The plans envisaged raising the airport’s passenger limit from its current 10 million to 12 million, a milestone it expected to reach by the mid-2020s. Latest available figures show the airport handling 8.6 million passengers by the end of 2018.

However, these plans were rejected on Monday by the North Somerset Council by an 18-7 vote on environmental grounds. The council left open the possibility for Bristol Airport to submit a similar application in the future.

“What the committee has considered is that the detrimental effect of the expansion of the airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to airport expansion,” said Councillor Don Davies in a statement, who noted the current passenger numbers and limitations still leave the hub with room to grow.

“I know some people will be upset by this decision and I am sure that we can reconsider it in future when the airline industry has decarbonised and the public transport links to the airport are far stronger,” he added.

Bristol Airport said it was “disappointed” by the decision and said the result would instead leave millions of passengers driving to London’s airports, creating carbon emissions and congestion.

“This decision risks putting the brakes on the region’s economy by turning away airlines who want to serve the south west market, shutting the door to international trade and tourism at a time when the UK needs to show it is open for business,” it said in its statement.

The plan included expanding the terminal building, constructing a multi-storey car park, improving roads around the airport and providing on-site renewable energy generation, according to the airport’s application.

Bristol Airport recorded an operating profit of £35.5 million ($46 million; €42 million) in its latest available financial accounts, released in April 2019, down from £38.5 million the previous year. The financial report did not recognise a potential rejection of the plans in its risk outlook.

Bristol Airport’s passenger numbers have risen by three million in the 10 years since OTPP became a 50 percent shareholder in 2009 after acquiring 35 percent from Macquarie Airports for £128 million. The deal at the time represented an EBITDA multiple of about 20 times.

OTPP became the sole shareholder in 2014 after buying the remainder from Macquarie’s first European Infrastructure Fund. The stake fell to 70 percent in 2017 when it sold stakes to the Australian investors.

OTPP and its Australian partners also own Birmingham Airport, Britain’s seventh busiest airport, which last year unveiled plans for a £500 million expansion project. OTPP was also part of the consortium that bought London City Airport for about £2 billion in 2016 and which also has a proposed £480 million expansion programme on the table.

The Canadian pension declined to comment for this story.