Design considerations

Supporting the five pillars


Forecasting the future can never be 100 per cent accurate but we know we have to be ready for the decades ahead, and that flexibility will be essential. We need to adapt and deliver, and provide Bristol and the South West of England with the airport it deserves.

This poses challenges but also huge opportunities. Our pillars will guide us as we develop a Master Plan which sets out a clear vision for future development. Our new Master Plan must also take into consideration many factors which will ultimately influence the physical design:

  • We have a complex site of almost 200 hectares, used by eight million passengers a year

  • We are in the countryside, yet serve one of the UK’s largest cities

  • We rely on public roads and transport systems, and these can only be improved through partnerships with the public and private sectors

  • We are closely connected to the local community and their interests, by providing jobs and as a neighbour.

There are also several key issues outside our direct control and others which are likely to be influenced by unforeseen technological, economic or social change. All this must be taken into account. On this page, we take a look at ten factors that will have a direct bearing on the look and feel of the airport. Currently, there is a degree of uncertainty about each, but they will help determine the airport’s layout and how it functions.


Access off the A38

The A38 is the main road route to Bristol Airport, linking us to Bristol in the north and the M5 to the south. But, as a single carriageway road, it is frequently congested at peak times and can be a major headache for passengers, our staff, local people and other road users. Slow-moving traffic makes journeys unreliable and increases pollution.

The airport is working on a strategy with partners to improve the A38, but a reliance on Government funding means any major improvement schemes are unlikely to be delivered before 2025 at the earliest.

We need to anticipate when and how the A38 will be transformed, and how this will impact upon the layout and design of an improved airport.

By the early 2030s for example, it is possible that the site could be accessible by dual-carriageway incorporating mass transit from Bristol. At some point, roads of the future will also need to adapt to automated and ‘connected’ cars.

Any improved layout must allow for an upgraded primary junction, and we also need to consider the extent of land likely to be required, the impact of topography on design, and the implications for the local road network, including Downside Road.


Employment and related development

The airport has grown organically over six decades. Some of our buildings need to be replaced, our aircraft maintenance and associated facilities are limited, and we are not currently able to offer wider development opportunities for inward investment.

Our new Master Plan provides an opportunity to address these issues and develop our vision for an airport that is also a public transport and employment hub.

A phased increase in passengers would bring new jobs in an expanded or new terminal, hotels and transportation. There would also be benefits from improved airfield infrastructure, aircraft maintenance hangars, engineering facilities and other related development. 

We believe we can also deliver additional land for employment that will contribute to the sustainable development of North Somerset and the West of England, although its precise location and scale will need to be determined through the strategic planning process.


Fuel provision

Modern airports have complex logistics, with a strong focus on time and cost efficiency. Our fuel operations need to be reliable every hour of every day, with the highest possible environmental and security standards on and off site. Unlike many other major UK airports, Bristol Airport currently relies on all of its fuel being delivered by road. 

The supply, storage and distribution of aviation fuel needs a lot of room. The facility has to be accessible ‘airside’ to allow for runway distribution by tanker, and also from the public highway and the airport’s internal road system.

Our current ‘fuel farm’ is centrally located, with four ground storage tanks and a total capacity of 1,430 cubic metres. In the future, the amount of fuel we need will depend on the volume of our air traffic, changes to aviation technology and the transition to new sustainable fuels. Predicting how much we will need by 2040 and beyond is difficult, but we know it is likely to significantly increase, and we need to start thinking about options. These include increasing ground storage capacity, relocating the ‘fuel farm’ within a re-configured site layout to improve access to the runway and the road network, or shifting to the delivery of fuel by pipeline. 


Green Belt

The Bristol and Bath Green Belt was designated in the mid-1950s, around the time Lulsgate Bottom was chosen as a location for Bristol Airport. As we look ahead to 2050 we believe it is time for a fresh assessment of the Green Belt boundary and the airport’s relationship with the surrounding area. 

Our unique circumstances led to part of our site being removed from the Green Belt in 2007. The land and buildings north of the airfield are now in what is called a Green Belt Inset, but the runway and Silver Zone to the south, with its car parks and buildings, remain in the Green Belt. This has led to higher density development to the north of the airport and a focus on car parking to the south.

Whilst there are examples of national important infrastructure in the Green Belt, we believe there is a strong case to reconsider the Green Belt designation of the current and future airport site. 


Land acquisition

Bristol Airport is one of the UK’s ten busiest airports, but with a site area of just 196 hectares, it is dwarfed by most of its peers, many of which occupy sites two or three times larger. By using highly efficient design and operations, we have become a popular and successful airport broadly within the boundary of our original 1957 site. But when we reach ten million passengers a year our site will be operating at full capacity in terms of the space available for aviation operations and supporting infrastructure. 

The airport’s continued success is therefore likely to require a larger site to serve the public need for greater connectivity and expanded airport capacity. However, an extended runway is not currently in our plans, with the existing A38 expected to remain a well-defined eastern boundary.

Land is precious, in terms of economic and productive value, habitat, and as a shared cultural and visual resource.  Any proposal to expand the extent of the site would need to be fully justified, and any land acquisition must be necessary, feasible and viable. As part of this consultation exercise, we will seek to engage with all landowners whose interests are potentially affected by any proposed revision to the airport’s boundary. The Master Plan will only be finalised after this and further consultation next year, after taking into account all representations received.  


Mass transit and car parking

Significantly improved public transport links to the airport would bring substantial benefits to passengers, communities, the economy and the environment. We believe that ‘mass transit’ - such as rail, light rail or tram systems - would contribute hugely to delivering on our five pillars.

There is growing support across the West of England for a strategic approach to reducing congestion and improving accessibility. Regional bus and rail networks are being upgraded, but despite further exciting developments over the horizon, decisions on mode, route and funding will not be made by the airport alone. We will continue to engage with decision-makers.

As with the A38, we need to anticipate when and how provision should be made for direct rail and/or tram services, including the form and location of a transport interchange. By the 2030s, for example, an airport railway station could form part of modern integrated terminal complex. Potential transport routes into and through the airport will also need to be identified.

Major advances in mass transit, shared, and automated vehicle technologies will have the potential to reduce our future demand for passenger and employee parking. This requires us to build flexibility into our future plans to ensure that passengers continue to have convenient access to our airport.


Place and locality

We like our corner of North Somerset, and we’re very proud to serve as a gateway to this part of the world. Good design and a distinctive regional character will be at the heart of our future plans. The world is changing rapidly, and a successful airport needs to adapt to emerging social and technological trends, by responding to the way people interact with buildings and space. 

Our design aesthetic is based on a strong ‘sense of place’, with a twist of Somerset heritage, ensuring that our airport is attractive and vibrant. Architecture, interior design, signage, lighting and landscaping all combine to provide a warm welcome and an enjoyable travel experience. Anticipating the future scale and shape of the airport gives us the opportunity for an exciting transformation, where buildings and public spaces truly inspire. 

And the digital revolution is transforming the relationship between buildings’ form and function. Passengers and staff are likely to see radical changes over the coming decades, as technological innovations affect aviation, transport, work, rest and play. New ways of doing things, from check-in and passport control, to waiting and relaxing, will change for the better how we design and build the layout of the airport.


Sustainability and green infrastructure

The opportunity to re-shape and modernise the airport’s estate is also the chance to use the best in sustainable development practice, from energy production and efficiency, to the transportation of people and goods, noise reduction, water use, and ecology.

The potential for innovative building design and land use is exciting. Infrastructure for the generation, storage, and distribution of energy; energy efficient structures; noise attenuation measures; facilities for improved water conservation and waste collection; and the protection and enhancement of habitats - all these will shape the future function and appearance of the airport. There are important implications beyond our boundary too, not least in the way the airport and its immediate surroundings can contribute to the existing network of green spaces, woodland, habitats and wildlife corridors. Using the site’s topography imaginatively and adopting cutting-edge technologies in areas such as sustainable travel will ensure we’re a good neighbour.

All sustainable development options have implications for landuse and visual impact, and will need to be assessed alongside operational and viability considerations. A truly sustainable approach will ensure that flexibility and resilience are the keystones of the airport’s future development. 



Our terminal opened in 2000, and has since been enlarged to give travellers more comfort and choice. It represents a step-change from the 1957 terminal, and by the 2030s and ’40s the way terminal buildings look, feel and work will be very different again.

We all know what we want from an airport terminal - quick and easy movement to and from the aircraft, space to meet or wait in relaxing surroundings, and somewhere to eat, drink, and shop. Security is paramount, but none of us appreciates congestion or delays. Our current facilities and levels of service are ranked highly by our passengers and we are driven by the need to keep making things better. 

Providing an airport fit for 2050 could involve enhancing and extending the existing terminal, with phased delivery to take account of future passenger forecasts. Or a still more sustainable approach could be to start afresh with a second or even a replacement terminal; the optimum site for which could be either north or south of the runway. A new building would be better placed to adopt global best practice in terms of design and security, and could use the site’s sloping topography to good effect, providing an iconic gateway to North Somerset, Bristol and the South West.


Topography and visibility

Bristol Airport is on a plateau, high within the rolling landscape south of Bristol. There are villages and hamlets in each direction, and the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty is located to the south. The visual impact of the airport has a more immediate bearing on the residential properties along Downside Road and the busy A38. These will need to be carefully considered in our Master Plan.

We want to protect close, middle and longer distance views wherever possible. New green infrastructure on and off site will help screen structures and operations, although there is also an opportunity for bold and imaginative ‘place-making’ that could mark this important regional gateway. For many visitors, the airport is the first impression to our region, and the UK, and our aim is to provide an airport in harmony with its attractive surroundings.

We will review the visual impact of buildings, other structures and larger areas of surface car parking – both individually and in combination. Landscaped buffer zones (including bunds) could also mitigate potential adverse effects.

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