21st March 2007
SSE condemns BAA’s eleventh-hour attempt to prevent proper examination of its Stansted expansion plans
BAA has made an eleventh-hour attempt to limit the scope of the Public Inquiry due to start in May to consider its expansion plans for the existing Stansted runway.
The airport operator is backtracking on its application for unlimited passenger use and trying to secure Uttlesford District Council’s (UDC) support in restricting discussion at the Inquiry to a throughput of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa).
A letter from the airport operator’s lawyers to the Inquiry Inspector sets out concerns that examination of higher passenger throughput levels would complicate the Inquiry. This is because of the need to consider the more serious impacts this would have in such areas as road traffic congestion, rail services, aircraft noise, landscape, carbon emissions, air quality and health impacts.
However, BAA has carefully qualified its offer by insisting that this does not represent its final position on expansion on the existing Stansted runway and is reserving the right to put in a future planning application for more than 35 mppa.
Both Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) and the Stansted Airlines Consultative Committee have made it clear that they regard the potential capacity of the single runway to be closer to 50 mppa than the 35 mppa figure repeatedly quoted by BAA and are intending to bring forward evidence on this through expert witness appearances at the Inquiry.
To Inquiry Parties including SSE, the move is a thinly veiled, eleventh hour ploy on BAA’s part to attempt to salvage and expedite its appeal against UDC whose Development Control Committee – comprising Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Independent Councillors – unanimously refused the application last November. For a behind-the-scenes deal to be struck now on a temporary 35mppa limit without reference to the elected members would make a mockery of the process.
To those who have followed the airport expansion debate over more than four decades it is clear that BAA would be back within just a few years to overturn a 35 mppa condition – potentially even earlier if this is brought into the second runway application which is due to be made later this year.
Commenting on BAA’s attempts to bypass a proper and fair examination of the application, SSE Campaign Director Carol Barbone said: “BAA has finally come to realise that SSE’s exposure of the understatement of its air traffic projections presents a serious threat to its ability to secure the planning approval which it has sought for the past 11 months.”
A key issue, as SSE has repeatedly made clear, is that BAA’s air traffic projections impact directly upon almost all of the environmental impacts. BAA does not want to be exposed in these areas for having not carried out an environmental impact assessment for higher air traffic throughputs.
“BAA’s sudden change of heart signals a preference for the old piecemeal approach to furthering its expansion plans,” Carol Barbone continued. “It is trying to cross the river in two jumps to minimise the incremental impact at each stage. However, this makes a mockery of any sensible approach to planning – and local democracy. We call on UDC Councillors to ensure that those they represent are not sold short on this Inquiry and to vigorously oppose BAA’s attempts to prevent this Inquiry from examining the true scale of its expansion plans for the existing runway.”
A copy of the letter from CMS Cameron McKenna (BAA’s lawyers) raising the intention to introduce a planning condition to control passenger numbers before the Public Inquiry is available from SSE.
The Air Transport White Paper (ATWP), which BAA has relied upon all along states:
“The first priority is to make best use of the existing runways, including the remaining capacity at Stansted and Luton.” [Executive Summary, p18] “Our starting point is that we should make the best use of existing airports before supporting the provision of additional capacity.” [Para 2.11] The important word here is “best” – NB – not “better”.
This means full use/maximum use, not a half-way house. Indeed an important element of the ATWP is its call for long term airport master plans – to 2015 and 2030 – so as to improve strategic planning to support airport development.
Schedule 4 of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 1999, requires an assessment of the development’s “direct effects and any indirect, secondary, cumulative, short, medium and long-term, permanent and temporary, positive and negative effects … “.
BAA cannot expect the community or the Inspector to assume that 35mppa is the end-game and indeed reserves its position without the assurance of, for example, a legally binding 40 year cap on 35mppa (similar to the Gatwick 40 year agreement) – or at least until 2030, the planning horizon for the ATWP.