20th February 2020
Two steps forward and one back
It’s been an eventful month for SSE in its long-running battle against the current Stansted Airport planning application, submitted two years ago by Stansted’s owners, the Manchester Airport’s Group (MAG).
On 24 January, after seemingly endless deliberation, Uttlesford District Council (UDC) finally decided to refuse MAG’s proposals. If the proposals had been approved, Stansted would have been allowed to handle 43 million passengers a year, making it almost as big as today’s Gatwick, and it would have meant an extra 200 flights a day compared to today’s levels.
MAG has always insisted that its planning application should be dealt with locally rather than nationally and so SSE has called upon MAG to respect the local UDC decision. The fact that MAG has not obtained the result that it wanted from UDC should not mean that it can now simply reverse its position and insist on its application being dealt with at national level.
Nevertheless, it is widely expected that MAG will appeal against UDC’s refusal to the Secretary of State, the consequence of which would be a lengthy public inquiry and further uncertainty.
From the outset SSE has argued that this airport planning application should be dealt with nationally rather than locally – not least because the previous UDC administration made no secret of their intention to approve the application. However, the political landscape changed radically at the May 2019 local elections and the new Council has scrutinised MAG’s expansion proposals for Stansted far more critically.
SSE’s second line of defence was a legal challenge in the High Court to try to force the planning application to be dealt with nationally rather than locally. That case was heard last November and the Judge gave his ruling on 7th February, deciding against SSE, which creates a slightly tricky situation.
If MAG agrees to accept the UDC decision rather than lodge an appeal, there will be no need for SSE to challenge the High Court ruling. That is the outcome that SSE is hoping for, but it will be important to keep options open.