I am proud of the time I spent as part of the travel industry. From humble holiday rep to Chair of the Board of Leeds Bradford Airport, I took great pleasure in enabling thousands of families to take a break from everyday life to spend quality time together, experience new cultures, and relax in the sun.
This background means I’m well aware of the thousands of jobs that depend on the habit of us Brits to escape our unpredictable weather for more pleasant climes. That habit will be hard to break, but that unpredictable weather could get a whole lot worse if we don’t change our behaviour. How we manage that change will have a big impact on those travel jobs.
During my time at Leeds Bradford Airport, I could only have dreamed of bringing forward plans for a shiny new terminal such as that now going before Leeds Plans Panel this week. How strange that I now feel it must be stopped.
It’s not that our local airport doesn’t deserve 21st century facilities, because it does. The issue is that the sleek, climate friendly structure offered by the Airport comes with strings attached: permission for the airport to almost double its flight operations, and thereby ramp up its carbon emissions. How can this be reconciled with climate change carbon reduction commitments locally and nationally?
The air travel industry is at a cross roads. Covid has grounded aircraft fleets. Airlines and travel operators have made unprecedented losses. Meanwhile, on the horizon, perhaps even in next months Budget, is an expectation of significant changes to travel taxes in the hope of making a positive impact on the carbon emissions of an industry powered by fossil fuels.
How this will affect the travel behaviours of the great British public, we have no way of knowingly yet. The odds are that It’s highly unlikely we are going to forego foreign holidays altogether. This is good news for the thousands of jobs that currently rely on us taking a flight from Leeds Bradford. But one thing that is certain is that there are too many unknowns to be making big airport infrastructure commitments right now.
2019 saw 93 million UK trips abroad, with £62 billion spent by us overseas. This compares to £25 billion spent by us on British breaks. The good news is that a year of lockdown in 2020 has made us more appreciative of our local resorts and countryside. If more of us could be persuaded to exchange Budapest for Bridlington in 2021, not only would it stimulate our Yorkshire economy just when it needs it, it would help us reach our Climate Emergency targets.
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership this week branded politicians who opposed the terminal and expansion investment at Leeds Bradford as irresponsible. Isn’t it more responsible to stimulate investment in sustainable tourism on home ground than enabling people to take their money overseas and pollute the environment to boot?
The airline industry insist that technology is advancing all the time to reduce the carbon impact of flying. I sincerely hope that this comes true soon and we can continue our continental holidays safe in the knowledge we’re not destroying our planet. Let’s wait until then before building a terminal to accommodate it.
Cllr Stewart Golton
Liberal Democrat Candidate for Mayor of West Yorkshire
Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Leeds City Council