15th November 2019
Airport denies plans for 50 million passengers a year
Stansted Airport has denied that it is planning to expand the airport to 50 million passengers per annum (mppa), well beyond the 43mppa limit applied for in its 2018 planning application, which continues to be under consideration by Uttlesford District Council.
The denial came in the High Court on Wednesday 13th November during SSE’s legal challenge over the airport planning application. However, the previous day, SSE’s barrister, Paul Stinchcombe QC, provided the Judge with multiple sources of evidence demonstrating that Stansted Airport was planning to expand to 50mppa. The Department for Transport (DfT) was aware of this and knew also that the existing runway could handle 50mppa.
Legally, a proposal for airport expansion to 50mppa must be dealt with by the Secretary of State and subject to detailed national scrutiny whereas a proposal to raise the present 35mppa limit to 43mppa can be dealt with locally by Uttlesford Council with far less scrutiny.
SSE had amassed its evidence over the past two years primarily through the disclosure of the notes of confidential meetings that took place between Stansted Airport and DfT officials. The DfT was legally required to provide SSE with this confidential information as soon as SSE filed its legal challenge in the High Court. This evidence – running to several hundred pages – was augmented by meeting records obtained from UDC under the Freedom of Information Act and by additional confidential information disclosed to SSE, following a High Court Order issued by the Judge earlier this year.
Since September 2018, however, SSE has been bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (‘NDA’) – a so-called ‘gagging order’, imposed by the DfT on behalf of the Secretary of State – which prohibited SSE from disclosing certain documentary evidence. The NDA no longer applies because the information, having been presented and discussed in the High Court, is now deemed to be in the public domain.
Another key element in SSE’s case was the critical importance of tackling climate change and the need for the Secretary of State to have a clear national strategy for limiting aviation emissions. SSE argued that it was irrational for the Secretary of State to allow local authorities to make decisions on airport planning applications which could give rise to millions of additional tonnes of CO2 emissions whilst, at the same time, instructing local authorities that they were not to take account of these CO2 emissions! The Judge acknowledged that SSE’s point on carbon emissions “appeared to have some traction”.
SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented: “We have undoubtedly given the Judge a great deal to think about and we must now wait and see whether that will be enough. In challenging the combined forces of the Secretary of State, the Manchester Airports Group and Uttlesford District Council, it is obviously essential to present the strongest possible case supported by the clearest possible evidence. We have certainly given it our best shot. We’ve learned, however, never to make predictions in this type of case.”