12th November 2018
An open letter to Uttlesford Planning Committee
Almost exactly 12 years ago, on 29th November 2006, the Uttlesford Planning Committee [Note 1] took the independently-minded and courageous decision to refuse – by a unanimous verdict – the last major Stansted Airport planning application. In so doing, they defied the clear recommendation in their officers’ report.
At that time BAA were the owners of Stansted Airport and the application sought an increase in the annual cap on passenger numbers from 25 million to 35 million. The proposal was touted by BAA as an application for “best use”, which could not be refused because it was fully supported by the Government.
The policy of “best use” of Stansted Airport was indeed fully supported by the Government of the day. It was enshrined in a comprehensive Government White Paper which had been subject to years of consultation and had survived numerous legal challenges.
However, members of the 2006 Uttlesford Planning Committee felt it was time to take a stand against the expansion of Stansted Airport by stealth, with one planning application after another. Sir Alan Haselhurst, at that time the long-serving local MP, put it as follows:
“Looking back at the post-war history of airport development in the London area one can only conclude that it has been conducted if not by deceit then by stealth. Almost every tranche of expansion which has taken place has followed strenuous denial that any such step was intended. Those who have sat in judgement at previous inquires have been able to conclude, doubtless in entirely good faith, that a line would be drawn under any development they were minded to recommend. That most certainly does not apply in the present case.
In the beginning we were told that Stansted would be an airport in the countryside, but that vision is becoming harder to sustain. It is no longer hidden and unobtrusive. It is becoming the dominant feature of the local environment. The landscaping and open spaces which softened the airport’s impact in the 1980’s and 1990’s are gradually being encroached and obliterated with new warehouses, hotels, office buildings, car parks and all the other paraphernalia which an airport apparently requires. Above all there is the noise day and, unfortunately, night. Quieter aircraft remain intrinsically noisy and in the countryside especially disturbing.
And for what advantage? The nature of the traffic at Stansted does not bring the same national economic benefit as is claimed for Heathrow. Nor are there, as I have sought to show, any likely countervailing pluses to outweigh the many minuses. The impact of the quality of life on the people I represent and over a wider area is too great to justify another tranche of expansion on the present terms.”
Sir Alan’s words echoed the views of the great majority of local residents in Uttlesford and those living under flight paths or having to endure air pollution and road congestion in communities far beyond Uttlesford. His words ring as true today as they did all those years ago.
Uttlesford’s refusal of the 35mppa planning application in 2006 was, as expected, appealed by BAA and there was a sense from the outset that the appeal would summarily rule in favour of BAA. In the event, it took two years, including a five month Public Inquiry, before BAA eventually won the day. It was a close run battle; and it was not in vain.
The stand taken by Uttlesford councillors enabled BAA’s plans and promises to be put under the spotlight of cross-examination with the result that BAA was ultimately forced to backtrack on many issues and concede many conditions that it would not otherwise have conceded. Moreover, the resultant two-year delay caused BAA’s plans for a second Stansted runway to be put on hold until 2009 and these plans ultimately had to be abandoned following a change of Government in 2010. The Uttlesford Planning Committee deserve enormous credit for that. It is the kind of achievement which grandparents can proudly relate to grandchildren.
Furthermore, the 2007 Stansted Public Inquiry received extensive media coverage and enabled issues of local importance, and wider national and international importance, to be raised. It was an opportunity to highlight the very special rural character of the area with its stunning landscapes and outstanding heritage assets, including some 3,800 listed buildings – more than in any other district in the East of England. [Note 2]
Perhaps most famously, the leader of the Inuit nation, Aqqaluk Lynge, travelled all the way from his home in Greenland to give powerful and moving first-hand evidence to the Stansted Public Inquiry on the impacts of climate change. [Note 3] He spoke as follows:
“You may say that the expansion of London Stansted Airport will play only a small part in increasing climate change but everyone can say that about almost everything they do. It is an excuse for doing nothing. The result of that attitude would be catastrophic. The serious consequences affecting my people today will affect your people tomorrow.”
His words resonated in the national media, with one national newspaper devoting its entire front page to his message, and senior politicians falling over one another to endorse his warnings.
The following year, on 28th October 2008, the Government introduced the Climate Change Act, committing the UK to achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The House of Commons approved the legislation with 476 votes in favour and just 5 against. The Uttlesford Planning Committee of 2006 would be fully entitled to claim at least a little of the credit for that landmark piece of legislation.
The baton now passes to the 2018 Planning Committee and we simply say this: Do not be swayed by party political or electoral considerations or by spin or propaganda. Judge this application on the evidence and with due regard for your obligations to the local community – those who earn their living from the airport as well as those who suffer from its consequences.
Above all, be courageous and independently-minded, and make the right decision for this generation and for future generations. It is of the highest importance that this very special local environment is able to be appreciated by generations yet to be born.
Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion
Background: On Wednesday 14th November, Uttlesford District Council (UDC) Planning Committee will be asked to determine a planning application by Stansted Airport which, if approved, would result in the airport being able to handle 44% more flights and 66% more passengers compared to last year.
Note 1: In 2008 the UDC Planning Committee was known as the Development Control Committee.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND COMMENT