Stansted Airport 43mppa Planning Application
In June 2017, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) submitted its initial re-application documents as the first step towards seeking planning approval from Uttlesford District Council (UDC) for an increase in Stansted’s permitted throughput from 35 to 43 million passengers per annum (mppa). At that time, Stansted’s throughput was around 25 mppa.
The formal planning application was submitted by MAG in February 2018 and amounted to over 3,000 pages of documents. It was followed by another 900 pages of MAG documents in June 2018.
SSE fiercely opposed the 2018 Planning Application from the outset and submitted more than 450 pages of detailed evidence and analysis. It was therefore profoundly disappointing when, in a controversial split decision in November 2018 – with the UDC Planning Committee divided equally, at five in favour and five against – the Chairman’s (additional) casting vote resulted in the MAG’s planning application being approved – subject only to the satisfactory completion of a Section 106 Agreement – a task which was delegated to officers.
However, SSE continued to fight this decision throughout 2019 and a some time had been bought because, as a result of pressure from SSE, the Secretary of State instructed UDC not to grant final approval until he had had an opportunity to consider whether to intervene. In the event, he decided not to intervene, but he took four months (until 20 March 2019) to announce his decision.
Fortunately, SSE had two other ‘irons in the fire’: first, a legal challenge lodged with the High Court; and second, a challenge relating to the conditions attached to the Planning Committee’s November 2018 approval decision, in particular the requirement for a satisfactory Section 106 agreement. With a total of three options to pursue, SSE remained hopeful that the UDC approval could be overturned.
By the time the Secretary of State had given UDC the green light to finalise approval of MAG’s planning application SSE had identified significant shortcomings in the proposed Section 106 Agreement. Whilst the Planning Committee had delegated the final negotiation of the Section 106 Agreement to officers, it had not given them ‘carte blanche’. Officers were only authorised to issue final approval to MAG if the Section 106 Agreement met certain defined criteria.
Meanwhile, the High Court agreed to an SSE request to delay hearing SSE’s legal challenge until later in the year to allow an opportunity for matters to be clarified and possibly resolved.
Throughout March and April 2019 SSE worked with UDC councillors from all parties in an effort to prevent officers from granting final approval to Stansted Airport on the grounds that the proposed Section 106 agreement did not satisfy the requirements set down by the Planning Committee. The effect was to delay any final decision until after the local council elections on 2nd May 2019.
The May 2019 local elections radically changed the make-up of UDC and laid the groundwork for a fresh approach. The new council was far less inclined to ‘rubber-stamp’ MAG’s Planning Application.
In June 2019 SSE organised the largest ever residents’ petition in the history of UDC calling for the airport planning application to be referred back to the Planning Committee for reconsideration. This led to an extraordinary UDC meeting being held on 28 June 2019, where SSE presented its analysis to the full council. The outcome was an almost unanimous agreement by councillors (just 1 objection) to refer the airport planning application back to the Planning Committee for reconsideration.
The process of reconsideration lasted more than six months but the end result was worth the wait. In January 2020 UDC Planning Committee reversed the original decision and voted 10 votes to nil to refuse the application – a vindication of SSE’s ‘never give up’ philosophy. Prior to the vote, SSE was able to make a slide presentation to the UDC Planning Committee which included a section setting out the legal position presented by leading planning QC Paul Stinchcombe on behalf of SSE.
It is not yet known whether MAG will appeal UDC’s decision and so in the meantime SSE continues to keep its legal options open.
The key SSE documents relating to the 2018 Airport Planning Application can be accessed below.