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Stansted Airport ready for new planning battle with Uttlesford District Council

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Stansted bosses are pressing ahead with a planning appeal to expand the airport after Uttlesford District Council's "flawed" decision to block growth.

The local authority reversed its initial approval to increase the current 35-million-a-year cap on passenger numbers to 43m after a change in political leadership. Before lockdown, the airport handled 28m passengers a year.

Ken O'Toole, Stansted's chief executive, said that permission was vital to the airport's role in reviving the region's shattered economy after coronavirus.

Stansted Airport's chief executive Ken O'Toole
Stansted Airport's chief executive Ken O'Toole

He said: "We've been listening to local communities over the last few years and we used their feedback to shape our proposals to make best use of Stansted's existing capacity.

"As a result, the application we put forward would mean no increase in the number of flights that can operate from Stansted each year, and we committed to provide a comprehensive package of measures to benefit local people.

"From our discussions with local communities, it is clear that the majority of local people support our proposals, and they welcome the airport's commitment to maintaining the existing cap on the number of flights and to reducing the airport's overall noise footprint.

Stansted Airport terminal (38226371)
Stansted Airport terminal (38226371)

"Since January, we have carefully considered the comments made by the [UDC] planning committee, the strong case we made about environmental effects, alongside our assessment of the significant benefits that the future success of Stansted will deliver to the region.

"In our view, the council failed to provide any credible or substantiated reasons to justify its decision to refuse the application. For this reason, we have decided to appeal the council's decision.

"It is regrettable that we have been put in a position of having to appeal, particularly in light of the clear advice the council's elected members received from their own officers and expert legal advisors, but also because of the time and significant costs that will be incurred as a result of the appeal.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the lives of people across the country and on the UK economy, and it is crystal clear that aviation will play a critical role in the local, national and global economic recovery.

Stansted Airport. (38226377)
Stansted Airport. (38226377)

"Our proposals have always been about growing Stansted in a sustainable way to support its vital role as the economic engine of the region, by responsibly managing its impacts and providing clarity for local communities.

"We are confident about the merits of our proposals and the prospects of securing the planning approval that will pave the way for Stansted to maximise its contribution to the success of the region it serves."

Stansted maintains its proposals can be delivered without any increase in the 274,000 flights a year that are currently allowed, and include a legally binding commitment to reduce the airport's noise 'footprint' and an enhanced sound insulation scheme for householders.

The application was rejected by UDC's Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration on January 24 this year, despite having been conditionally approved by its Conservative predecessor in November 2018.

Planning committee members concluded Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Stansted, had failed to demonstrate that the extra flights would not result in an increased detrimental effect from noise and pollution and other environmental impacts. The councillors also regarded infrastructure proposals as inadequate.

Before both meetings, the UDC officers and independent legal advisors advised there were no grounds to refuse the application.

Later this month, Stansted will formally submit an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, an executive agency of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which will oversee a public inquiry before making its recommendation to the Government.

A spokesman for Uttlesford District Council said: "“The council is aware of MAG’s intention to appeal against the refusal of planning permission in January. Once it is formally submitted, the council will deal with the appeal in accordance with the government’s planning processes.”

Timeline of application

November 2018 – UDC planning committee approves Stansted Airport's planning application following two days of public speaking and an all-day committee meeting.

March 2019 – The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government confirms the application will not be 'called in' for determination by central government and that UDC was the right body to determine the application.

May 2019 – Following local elections, the new Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration commissions two further sets of independent legal advice on the proposals.

June 2019 – With R4U now in control, UDC holds a second extraordinary general meeting.

* Advice from UDC officers and independent legal experts confirms there are no grounds for refusing to issue the final approval.

* The officers’ report advises UDC to ringfence its £2m Strategic Initiative Fund in the event it needs to defend itself against an appeal and warns of further financial consequences of facing a legal challenge.

* UDC votes to return the issue to its planning committee to consider the detail of the proposed Section 106 Agreement and whether there had been any significant change in circumstances since the November 2018 vote to approve.

January 2020 – UDC’s planning committee refuses application despite officers and independent legal advisors recommending to members there were no grounds to refuse the application and Stansted’s revised £35m S106 mitigation package.

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