17th July 2020
Member letter – July 2020
May I firstly apologise for the gap of six months since my last update. This is partly because we’ve been awaiting clarity on certain matters and partly because of the practical difficulties of organising a postal mailout to our membership during the current pandemic.
Let me now summarise the main developments in the past six months:
Airport Planning Application
As you know, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has been seeking an increase in the permitted throughput at Stansted Airport from the present limit of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) to 43mppa. Stansted’s actual throughput in both 2018 and 2019 was 28 million passengers and will be very significantly lower this year due to the impact of Covid-19.
This planning application had been provisionally approved by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) in November 2018 but SSE continued to challenge the basis for that approval throughout 2019, and a change of political control at UDC provided the impetus for a fresh look at the planning application. Accordingly, at a memorable meeting of the UDC Planning Committee on 24 January, the original decision was overturned and the planning application was refused by a margin of 10 votes to nil.
Our sense of achievement was tempered by the expectation that MAG would waste no time in appealing against UDC’s refusal. However, as the months passed, and as it became ever clearer that Covid-19 was having a devastating impact on the demand for air travel, an appeal seemed less likely. Then, on 10 July, MAG announced that it would be lodging an appeal application by the end of the month – i.e. just prior to the six-month legal deadline for an appeal.
As matters stand, this would mean that the Secretary of State must, by law, appoint an Inspector who would chair a Public Inquiry to re-examine the evidence. The Inspector would then make recommendations to the Secretary of State who would make the final decision. The final outcome may not be known for 18 months or more and UDC has set aside £1.7 million to cover the potential cost of an Inquiry, including MAG’s costs if the Inspector so determines.
SSE will seek to prevent this Public Inquiry (see below) but if, despite our best efforts, we are unable to do so, we will offer every assistance to UDC in defending its position. This will include extensive expert evidence highlighting the unacceptable impacts of the proposed expansion in relation to climate change, noise, air pollution and health impacts, and the inadequate capacity of the local road and rail infrastructure. In addition, the impact of Covid-19 raises fundamental questions about the need for any airport expansion at this time.
In the event of a Public Inquiry SSE’s costs would also be considerable but nowhere near the potential costs for UDC because SSE is almost entirely a voluntary organisation. We would however need legal and other external support to augment our own expertise. We do therefore need to make an appeal for funds, further details of which can be found later in this update. Please support us by making a contribution to the extent that you are able to do so. You can be assured of our very best efforts.
When the 43mppa planning application was submitted, in February 2018, SSE decided to challenge the application not only through the planning process but also through the courts. Our legal challenge was centred around the question of whether MAG’s planning application should be dealt with locally, as MAG argued, or treated as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’ (NSIP), as SSE argued, and determined at national level. One of our major concerns at that time was that UDC appeared all too willing to accommodate MAG’s expansion ambitions for Stansted.
SSE’s legal challenge finally reached the High Court in November 2019 and the Judge issued his ruling in February 2020. That ruling went against SSE. There is, however, an opportunity to appeal.
The NSIP process is far less costly than the Public Inquiry process, not least because it is focused on hard evidence rather than the skills of the barristers. However, this is of no great concern to SSE because we believe that our evidence and analysis will stand up to scrutiny. The NSIP process would also be of major benefit to UDC since it would remove the risk of a £1.7million exposure.
SSE therefore intends to ask the Court of Appeal to review the February 2020 High Court ruling.
New SSE Website
During this lockdown period, we have taken the opportunity to build a new SSE website which is now up and running at www.stopstanstedexpansion.com, i.e. the same address as before. You’ll see that we’ve had a spring-clean of old files and introduced a considerable amount of new material.
Our original website was set up shortly after we were established in 2002 and it has served us admirably for 18 years. I would like to pay tribute to Peter Riding who – almost single-handedly –has maintained our website throughout that period. Like so many of our other volunteers, we owe Peter an enormous debt of gratitude. And if you look, for example at the ‘Recent Consultations’ page of the new SSE website (under ‘Library – Information Centre’) you’ll see that we have not been idle these past few months.
Appeal for Funds
Finally, please may I again draw your attention to our appeal for funds. We have a challenging time ahead of us, especially given the potential legal costs of taking our case to the Court of Appeal to try to prevent a Public Inquiry and, if that appeal is unsuccessful, funding legal representation at an Inquiry. Such proceedings would not be possible without the support of the community we seek to represent, so please consider making a contribution (which can also be done online) to the extent that you are able to do so. You can find our July Appeal Form on our website here.
With best wishes, and stay safe.