11th July 2020

“Callous, Cynical and Pointless” – MAG to appeal council’s refusal of Stansted expansion proposals

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) Chairman, Peter Sanders, has described yesterday’s announcement from the Manchester Airport Group (MAG) of its intention to appeal against the council’s refusal of its Stansted Airport expansion proposals as “callous, cynical and pointless”.

Background

MAG was seeking an increase in the permitted throughput at Stansted from the present limit of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) to 43mppa.  Stansted’s actual throughput in 2019 was 28 million passengers and will be very significantly lower this year due to the impact of Covid-19.

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) first received MAG’s expansion proposals for Stansted in June 2017 and spent more than two and a half years considering the issues prior to 24 January 2020 when its (cross-party) Planning Committee voted by ten votes to zero to refuse the application.

Before the vote was taken, Stansted CEO Ken O’Toole, thanked “the UDC members and officers for the time and effort they have devoted to carefully and professionally considering our application, particularly over the past few months“.  MAG had insisted from the outset that its planning application should be determined locally rather than nationally, and that UDC was the “competent and appropriate authority” to deal with its application – a view that was endorsed by the Secretary of State, over-ruling SSE’s view that the scale of the application meant that it should be determined nationally (see Note below).

Reaction from SSE

Mr Sanders commented: “It is the height of cynicism for MAG to insist all along that its planning application should be determined locally and then, when it does not obtain the result it wants, to appeal to the Secretary of State to set up a Public Inquiry, aimed at overturning the local decision.  MAG chose the playing field and it should therefore respect the democratic verdict of our local council.”

Mr Sanders added: “Following the UDC refusal on 24 January, MAG had (in law) six months to appeal and stated yesterday that it will submit its appeal “later this month”.  In other words, MAG is leaving this to the last possible moment.  A Public Inquiry would mean that the final outcome might not be known for another 18 months and could cost our local council up to £1.7 million. In the current circumstances, clearly there is tremendous pressure on local finances and there are far more important priorities.”

Mr Sanders concluded: “By prolonging the uncertainty in this way and forcing an enormous cost burden upon local council taxpayers, MAG shows a callous disregard not only for local democracy but also for the local community, who deserve some peace of mind, not a constant threat from an airport with an insatiable appetite for expansion”.

SSE is currently considering legal options which might yet thwart a Public Inquiry.  However, if an Inquiry cannot be avoided, SSE 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 on the local community and the inadequate capacity of the local road and rail infrastructure.

Finally, the impact of Covid-19 raises fundamental questions about the need to approve further airport expansion at this time. Stansted will handle about half of its permitted 35mppa throughput this year and so there is no urgency whatsoever to raise this cap to 43mppa.  It would therefore be a pointless waste of time and money to hold a Public Inquiry at this stage.  It would also be a wholly unnecessary distraction when there are so many more important and urgent issues to grapple with.

Even at this late hour, SSE urges MAG to think again and agree to respect the UDC decision.

NOTES

SSE launched Judicial Review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Transport in August 2018 arguing that the Stansted Airport planning application should be dealt with as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), in view of the scale of the project and its wider impacts upon climate change. A High Court ruling in February 2020 went against SSE and endorsed local determination.  However, SSE still has the option to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.  If UDC’s January 2020 refusal decision had been accepted by MAG, SSE would not have proceeded to the Court of Appeal.  Unfortunately, MAG has announced its intention to appeal and so SSE will review its legal options.  If the application could be dealt with as an NSIP, this would be less time-consuming and far less costly than the Public Inquiry process.  The costs to UDC would be almost negligible, as opposed to it facing a bill of up to £1.7m for a Public Inquiry.

FURTHER INFORMATION AND COMMENT

Campaigning against proposals to expand Stansted Airport