14th January 2019
Waiting Game on Airport Expansion
At the time of going to press, a decision is still awaited from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, as to whether the planning approval granted by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) last November for further expansion at Stansted Airport should be allowed to stand.
SSE has submitted a 92-page dossier to James Brokenshire, arguing for the UDC decision to be declared null and void and for the airport planning application to be looked at afresh at a Public Inquiry.
Meanwhile the High Court judge (Mr Justice Dove), who is dealing with SSE’s legal challenge against Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on the same underlying issue, has agreed to SSE’s request to defer setting a date for the case hearing until James Brokenshire has made his decision.
The case had previously been scheduled for a two-day hearing in the High Court on 19th and 20th February.
Barristers acting for Manchester Airports Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted Airport, strongly objected to SSE’s request for a deferral but Mr Justice Dove agreed with SSE’s position that it made sense to wait for James Brokenshire’s decision before setting a date for the hearing.
There may not even be a need for a High Court hearing because, if James Brokenshire decides that the UDC decision should be set aside and the planning application looked at afresh at a Public Inquiry, SSE will have no need to proceed with its current legal challenge.
On the other hand, if James Brokenshire allows the UDC decision to stand, the likelihood is that SSE will seek permission from the High Court to extend its legal challenge to include both Secretaries of State. There would also be the possibility of including UDC in the action.
UDC itself now appears to accept that mistakes were made in the handling of the planning application. The Council’s Scrutiny Committee has agreed to commission an independent investigation to look at all aspects of UDC’s handling of the application to identify what lessons can be learned.
Addressing the Scrutiny Committee, SSE Deputy Chairman Brian Ross underlined the importance of having a genuinely independent and thorough investigation and emphasised that it should not only look to identify “best practice” (as was being suggested as its main purpose) but also any malpractice.