2nd January 2005

BAA the target of legal action over expansion blight

Press release issued on behalf of Takeley Parish Council

Formal documents have now been lodged with the High Court setting out the case for Judicial Review of BAA’s proposed compensation arrangements for local homeowners suffering generalised blight as a result of plans to expand Stansted Airport.

This latest application for Judicial Review, this time against BAA rather than the Government, has been made by Takeley Parish Council and local homeowners who are excluded from BAA Stansted’s ‘Home Owner Support Scheme’ (HOSS), set to be introduced on 4 January 2005.  The HOSS purports to implement the Government’s requirement for a scheme to minimise the effects of generalised blight from the proposed new runway, outlined in the recent Air Transport White Paper.  However, it is so narrowly drawn that it covers just 500 out of the estimated 12,000 homes affected by airport related blight, leaving the vast majority of local residents ‘out in the cold’.

BAA is accused of seeking to minimise compensation payments by refusing to entertain claims from home-owners whose properties lie outside a very tightly defined 66 dBA Leq (decibel) noise contour, despite clear evidence of property blight over a much wider area.

Takeley Parish Council believes that it can easily demonstrate to the High Court that many homes in the vicinity of the airport which are not covered by the scheme are already severely blighted by the prospect of having the world’s largest airport on their doorstep.  The Parish Council has been provided with numerous case studies of local homeowners, within Takeley Parish and beyond, who are currently unable to sell their properties and who are now trapped into staying by the major financial loss or even negative equity they would incur as a result of selling at enormously reduced values. In many of these cases there are pressing family or work-related reasons which lie behind the family’s reason for wishing to move home.

The unfairness and inadequacy of the BAA scheme is such that properties within just 400 hundred yards of the proposed second runway fail to qualify, despite suffering severe blight as a result of their location.  Not surprisingly, local homeowners are finding that no matter how much potential purchasers like the house, they are scared off when they realise the sheer scale of development that BAA proposes for Stansted Airport in the future.

By stipulating that only homeowners whose properties fall within a very narrowly defined noise contour will qualify, BAA Stansted accepted from the outset that its proposed ‘HOSS’ compensation arrangements would address only the most severely affected properties and many properties which suffer generalised blight would not qualify at all.

Takeley Parish Council has even obtained evidence that before finalising its compensation proposals and deciding upon the controversial 66 decibel noise contour, BAA was fully aware that property values had been affected over a wider area.   In an email dated 3 September 2004 to Jonathan Sharrock, head of the Department for Transport’s Airports Policy Division, Alastair McDermid who heads the BAA team promoting the second runway and the HOSS wrote that there is “evidence at present of generalised blight over an area wider than the 66 Leq contour (especially for more expensive properties).”

While Takeley Parish Council is taking the lead on the High Court challenge, other neighbouring parish councils whose residents are similarly being ignored by BAA’s proposed compensation arrangements  have voiced their support for the Takeley action and are expected to promise financial support early in the New Year.

Trevor Allen, Chairman of Takeley Parish Council, who has spearheaded the compensation fight, reiterated his determination to see justice delivered for those affected by the generalised blight created by BAA in his parish, saying:  “We intend to do everything in our power to challenge BAA’s attempts to rip off local people through its penny-pinching approach to developing Stansted on the cheap.  BAA’s compensation scheme based on an arbitrary and inadequate noise contour which excludes the vast majority of people who are affected by blight might satisfy BAA and its cronies at the Department for Transport, but we’ll now see if it satisfies the Courts.”

Takeley’s legal challenge follows requests to the Government in November to fulfil its duties under the European Convention on Human Rights and ensure that those who actually suffer blight are properly protected by an underwriting scheme.  Such a scheme could be operated by the Government or by the airport developer on a statutory basis.

The solicitors acting for Takeley Parish Council and local residents are Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law, with barristers Charles George QC and James Pereira.

SUMMARY OF THE GROUNDS FOR THE CHALLENGE:

Ground 1:  Failure to have regard to section 26(2A) Land Compensation Act 1973 notably the failure to consider whether the enjoyment of property affected by the proposed airport expansion would be seriously affected;

Ground 2:  Failure to have regard to or satisfy material requirements of the White Paper covering failure to minimise the impacts on local people by addressing only the needs of those whose properties would be ‘worst’ affected; failure lawfully to address generalised blight (despite acknowledging its existence beyond the scheme boundary); an irrational scheme boundary which is more relevant to those likely to suffer noise blight from an operational second runway rather than those affected by the proposals in the broadest sense, as well as on the basis of inappropriate methods of calculating that noise; unlawful failure to consider cases falling outside the scheme boundary.

Ground 3:  Duty under Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 1 of the First Protocol to the ECHR – addressing protection of the individual’s right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and correspondence, in this case applied in the context of the direct and serious effects of noise and other pollution which expansion would incur and BAA’s failure to make proper provision for those who would be affected.

Ground 4:  Article 14 ECHR discrimination regarding the discriminatory operation of the scheme which compensates those home owners whose properties are located within the scheme boundary but not those located beyond it, even if the extent of blight suffered by both is materially the same.

Campaigning against proposals to expand Stansted Airport