Achievements to date
When we launched SSE in 2002 in response to Government proposals for major expansion at Stansted Airport, we were repeatedly told that we were wasting our time, that the plans for up to three additional runways outlined in the consultation document meant that at least one extra runway was a certainty.
As expected, the Air Transport White Paper the following year confirmed the Government’s position that an extra runway should be built at Stansted by 2011/12, with the Aviation Minister telling SSE that it would have been more than one runway had it not been for the strength of the campaign we had waged. If the Government expected SSE to settle for this ‘compromise’ and give up our campaign, they were sadly mistaken.
We knew that the economic case for Stansted’s development was weak and that, given the growing concern over climate change and the catastrophic impact that a second runway would have on the local environment, we still had everything to fight for. We promised to leave no stone unturned to prevent the plans coming to fruition.
In May 2010, almost eight years after we started our campaign, the Government withdrew its support for any major expansion of Stansted and BAA, the airport’s owner at that time, withdrew its planning application for a second runway.
However, the threat re-emerged in September 2012 when the Government established the Airports Commission with the task of examining whether the UK needed new runway capacity and, if so, where this should be built. The Commission concluded in December 2013 that at least one new runway would be needed in the South East by 2030.
SSE engaged fully with the Airports Commission from the outset and succeeded in keeping Stansted off the Commission’s shortlist of new runway options. The Commission published its final report in July 2015 which recommended that Heathrow should have a new (third) runway. The Government accepted that recommendation in October 2016 and the House of Commons gave its support for a third Heathrow runway in June 2018 by 415 votes to 119.
However, SSE’s job is far from complete. The Government, local politicians, the media and others need to be constantly reminded that that there is no justification for major expansion at Stansted. We also have the ongoing task of keeping pressure on the airport to minimise the impact of its operations on local residents – day and night.
There is also the wider global challenge of getting the aviation industry to face up to its responsibilities in relation to climate change. Endless expansion of aviation is not a viable option, and from a climate change perspective the provision of additional airport capacity – regardless of whether this is at Stansted or elsewhere – will exacerbate the problem. Working with other airport community groups and environmental NGOs, SSE will continue to press for action to tackle the growing impact of aviation on climate change, for example by lobbying for an end to the aviation industry’s blanket exemption from fuel duty and VAT.
To ensure that our voice is effective and carries weight, we need as many members and supporters as possible.
The support of our volunteer team and the backing of so many in the community – from individuals to elected representatives, Parliamentarians to other environmental groups – has been key to the effectiveness of SSE over the years. For example:
- We ran a successful High Court challenge against the 2002 Government consultation on developing new airport capacity in the south east, forcing a re-run of the consultation
- Alongside other airport campaign groups we mounted a legal challenge of the 2003 Air Transport White Paper and forced a new consultation on runway siting options
- Our campaign opposing the cross-subsidy of Stansted by more profitable BAA airports helped persuade the economic regulator (the CAA) to prohibit cross-subsidisation, thereby reducing the financial viability of expansion at Stansted
- BAA was forced to end free parking for Parliamentarians after pressure from SSE
- We made a leading contribution to the break-up of the BAA monopoly by bringing the issue to the fore in the media, in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels, at BAA AGMs, through unusual collaboration with certain airlines and shareholders and by extensive evidence to the Monopolies Commission (now the Competition and Markets Authority)
- We used concerted Parliamentary action to secure amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill 2006 to force the Government to retain numerical limits on night flights at Stansted at a time when it wanted to rely solely upon unenforceable noise quotas.
- We have consistently been to the fore in lobbying for an increase in Air Passenger Duty so that aviation pays its full environmental costs, countering pressure from the aviation lobby for the abolition of APD, and we continue to press for a Duty Per Plane system
- We made nine separate evidence submissions to the Airports Commission. We also launched legal proceedings against the Commission, forcing the resignation of one of its members, because we were concerned about a potential conflict of interest.
- We succeeded in ensuring that Stansted did not even make the Airport Commission’s shortlist of options for a new runway in the south east, and the Commission’s final report did not even give any consideration to the idea of an additional runway at Stansted.
- Our efforts were recognised in a Parliamentary Award for ‘Best Community Campaign’
- Within days of SSE instructing barristers to commence legal proceedings against Stansted Airport Ltd (STAL) in June 2016, for refusing to entertain local homeowners’ compensation claims, we were able to call a halt to our legal proceedings when STAL announced that it would (finally) begin to consider homeowner compensation claims.
- We have consistently opposed plans put forward in June 2017 for raising the passenger throughout cap at Stansted from 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) to 43 mppa.
- Even when Uttlesford District Council (UDC) resolved to approve expansion to 43mppa in November 2018, SSE continued to oppose, including through a legal challenge, and in January 2020 UDC overturned its earlier approval of the proposed expansion to 43mppa. See our Press Release published on 25 January 2020 here.
Going forward, we will continue to spearhead representation of the community on issues arising out of the airport’s current operations to minimise the impacts which already blight so many lives. We know that having achieved so much already we must not let our guard drop, but use the success to date to make the best possible progress in the future.