Cancel the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport

Plans to expand Leeds Bradford Airport not only risk more toxic air for nearby communities, they’re also a threat to the health and wellbeing of communities around the world already suffering the impacts of the climate crisis.

As health workers and students in Leeds, we’re writing to the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, to set up a public enquiry into the decision by Leeds City Council to allow the airport expansion plans. At a time of global crisis, we should be prioritising green jobs and a sustainable economy, not locking in more emissions.

If you’re a health worker or student in Leeds, please sign our open letter to the Secretary of State and share with your friends and colleagues.

An open letter from health workers and students to Communities Minister Robert Jenrick

Dear Secretary of State, RT Hon Robert Jenrick,

We, the undersigned, are health and social care professionals and students based in Leeds. We are writing to you to express our disappointment regarding the decision made by Leeds City Council to approve, in principle, the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport. We are deeply concerned for the detrimental impacts that the expansion will have on the health of our patients, if allowed to go ahead.

We urge you to take the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport to a public enquiry, allowing full consideration of all the risks of allowing the project to go ahead ─ especially the potential adverse impacts of increased emissions on the health of our patients and communities, both locally and nationally. The enquiry must also take into account the fact that airport expansion goes against the wishes of the people of Leeds. In a poll conducted by the Leeds Climate Change Citizens’ Jury, it was shown that 86% of jurors believed that it would be ‘the wrong decision to expand Leeds Bradford Airport’.1

The Council’s decision demonstrates a gross disregard towards the responsibility the UK has to scale down emissions as quickly as possible, and directly contradicts the recommendation of the Government’s Climate Change Committee that “there should be no net expansion of UK airport capacity”.2 By permitting the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport, the Council risks perpetuating a race to the bottom with other small airports, such as Manchester Airport, which are likely to expand their own capacity to compete for customers. We simply cannot afford such expansion if we are to reduce emissions and avert the climate crisis.

The health impacts of climate change and air pollution are increasingly well understood, and very concerning. On a global level, these impacts have already begun to be felt. For example, the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change notes a greater prevalence of symptoms such as food insecurity, droughts, desertification, rising sea levels and extreme weather events.3 As highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), without more stringent mitigation, we may face 250,000 access deaths per year between 2030-2050 alone.4 However, this is not a crisis that impacts us all equally. As we have seen, nations in the global south that have contributed comparatively little to the problem have been disproportionately affected by climate change, a disparity that will only grow without immediate and effective action.

On a local level, the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport risks increasing NO2 and PM2.5 emissions, which will be extremely harmful to the health and wellbeing of nearby communities. As it stands, local levels of PM2.5 are already in contravention of WHO regulations, yet continue to rise.5 Poor quality air is estimated to cause, on average, 300 deaths in Leeds every year. As healthcare professionals, we see our patients presenting with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses that are either a direct result or exacerbated by air pollution. Last month saw the first case of a coroner ruling that air pollution was a direct cause of death of a child in London, but this certainly was not the first time air pollution has impacted our patient’s morbidity and mortality, nor is this a phenomenon unique to London.6

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of work and income as social determinants of good health. As such, we sympathise with the desire to create jobs, particularly as we face mass unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as highlighted in the COVID-19 Marmot Review’s recent report, ‘Build Back Fairer’, job creation alone is not enough to insure that our communities benefit in terms of health and wellbeing.7 Work must be secure, pay enough to live on and be sustainable in the long-term. If the UK is to fulfil even the most modest emissions reductions targets, any new job opportunities created in the aviation sector, which is a high-emissions industry, are unlikely to be secure in the long-term.

Research has shown that by focusing on low-carbon infrastructure and utilities, we could create up to 1.24 million jobs across the UK over the next two years.8 As the New Economics Foundation highlights, this could be ‘topped-up’ with additional jobs in education, health and care.9 According to a recent report produced by the Local Government Association (LGA), local authorities have a vital role to play in supporting the transition to a zero-carbon economy, with councils across the UK already supporting the creation of new green jobs.10

As healthcare professionals and students concerned with the health and wellbeing of our communities in Leeds and around the world, we urge you to allow for further discussion on the plans to expand Leeds Bradford Airport by establishing a public enquiry into the project.

We believe that cancelling the plans for expanding Leeds Bradford Airport would be the correct decision, in line with the need to scale down emissions as quickly as possible. Instead, we call on the government to work towards implementing a Green New Deal, working with local authorities to create new, secure green jobs, both in Leeds and across the UK.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned