Leeds Bradford Airport expansion is too little, too late – David Behrens

Some years ago I found myself at Prestwick Airport, west of Glasgow. In the 1960s it had been second only to Manchester as a provincial portal for transatlantic travel but when I was there you’d have been lucky to find a flight to the Isle of Man.

Leeds Bradford Airport's proposed new terminal building.

The arrivals board, in fact, was so barren that the owners had taken to hiring the place out to film crews who needed an authentic-looking location without the inconvenience of actual travellers. That explained my presence – directing silly sketches for a comedy show on BBC2.

I wasn’t the only one so engaged. Another crew had borrowed a plane in the colours of a supposed Indian airline called Goa Way. It was a splendidly elaborate joke but also an unintended comment about the airport itself.

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Its problem was that it was in the wrong place. It was officially named Glasgow Prestwick Airport yet it was 30 miles away, outside Ayr. You could have been in Edinburgh in less time than it took to drive there.

Leeds Bradford Airport is the subject of a proposed expansion

That was why, as the age of the package holiday dawned, the city elders decided that a better and more convenient airport was needed. They chose Paisley, 15 minutes away on the M8 – and if you want to fly to Glasgow now, that is where you will land. The story of Prestwick is pertinent closer to home, where another airport in the wrong place is in the throes of one of the many planning battles that has pockmarked its existence.

Leeds Bradford is a terminal that could also have been supplanted long ago when there was still space to build a bigger one. Not doing so has relegated Yorkshire to the Northern Premier League of international travel.

Yeadon Airport, to give it its geographical name, is the highest in England, which means it is usually the first to close when there’s fog on the horizon. It is in neither Leeds nor Bradford and not connected to either city by rail or motorway. Your best bet is catching the number 737 bus, stopping en route at Morrisons.

The airport has been extended several times, before and since Leeds and Bradford councils sold it. The latest one, which involves demolishing the terminal and building a new one, was approved by planners this week despite opposition from climate scientists who said the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than those allowed for the whole of Leeds in 10 years’ time.

Others warned of the consequences for health from the increased noise and pollution that more flights would bring.

So much for being led by the science.

Having lived for 15 years almost directly under the flightpath – any closer and I’d be able to read the on-board magazines – I don’t relish the prospect of increased activity.

Yet for the most part I hardly notice it’s there and that’s not entirely to its credit. It should be both a curse and a convenience but it has been neither.

The planes overhead are no more intrusive than the passing sirens from the nearby ambulance station. And while I can be there in less than 15 minutes, it has proved a less useful amenity than the airport 60 miles away in Manchester.

Mainly it’s because the flights are cheaper. The trip I was planning from there to Berlin this time last year would have cost three times as much from Leeds and the same has been true for all but a handful of the other holiday flights I’ve taken. Only for business trips, where someone else has picked up the bill, has Leeds proved advantageous.

What’s more, I can take the train direct to Manchester Airport for not much more than it costs to park at Leeds, where even picking up a passenger outside the arrivals lounge has been made prohibitively expensive.

The latest redevelopment will change little of that. A proposed new “parkway” station – that’s railway jargon for a stop in the middle of nowhere – will improve access slightly but travellers will always go where the cheapest tickets take them – and there isn’t enough space at Yeadon to build even one terminal big enough to compete with Manchester’s three.

So even if you accept that the planners’ promise to deliver the most sustainable airport in the UK isn’t a contradiction in terms, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s all too little, too late – or that a generation from now Yeadon may be just another Prestwick, with Goa Way painted in big letters outside.

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