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Stansted Airport planning appeal: Inspectors overturn Uttlesford District Council's refusal for passenger growth

Stansted Airport has won its mammoth planning battle against Uttlesford District Council and secured permission for up to 43 million passengers a year.

On Wednesday (May 26), planning inquiry inspectors who heard evidence from Stansted operator Manchester Airports Group (MAG) and planning authority UDC over three months at the start of the year have granted MAG's appeal and awarded it full costs.

Stansted Airport bosses will now submit a demand to UDC. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Senior Courts Costs Office will intervene.

Stansted Airport. (47591364)
Stansted Airport. (47591364)

The authority had been warned it faced a substantial financial hit in seven figures but ploughed ahead despite independent legal advice that approval for the expansion, granted in November 2018 when the Conservatives were in charge of the council, should stand.

In June 2019, after Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) won control of the council in the previous month's local elections, members voted to return MAG's application to the planning committee, and in January 2020 members voted to reject the plans, triggering MAG’s appeal.

The hearing, which began online on January 12, was scheduled to last until April 1 but ended on March 12. At its conclusion, Stop Stansted Expansion and UDC’s Liberal Democrat opposition, who both opposed expansion, agreed with the airport's QC Thomas Hill’s view that the council had failed to defend its refusal of planning permission.

Stansted Airport terminal (47591367)
Stansted Airport terminal (47591367)

Today it is clear that the panel of three inspectors also agreed. They concluded: “Overall, the balance falls overwhelmingly in favour of the grant of planning permission.

"Whilst there would be a limited degree of harm arising in respect of air quality and carbon emissions, these matters are far outweighed by the benefits of the proposal and do not come close to indicating a decision other than in accordance with the development plan. No other material considerations have been identified that would materially alter this balance.”

They rejected arguments that the application to lift the existing cap of 35m passengers a year and add two new taxiway links to the runway, plus six additional remote aircraft stands and three additional aircraft stands, was premature. The growth will be achieved without any increase in the current maximum of 274,000 aircraft movements a year.

The inspectors said: “If it ultimately takes the airport longer than expected to reach anticipated levels of growth, then the corresponding environmental effects would also take longer to materialise or may reduce due to advances in technology that might occur in the meantime.

Stansted Airport (47591404)
Stansted Airport (47591404)

“Conversely, securing planning permission now would bring benefits associated with providing airline operators, as well as other prospective investors, with significantly greater certainty regarding their ability to grow at Stansted, secure long-term growth deals and expand route networks, potentially including long-haul routes.”

They agreed it had been “demonstrated beyond doubt that the development would not result in unacceptable adverse aircraft noise and that, overall, the effect on noise would be beneficial”.

Concerns about air quality were similarly assuaged and the inspectors agreed: “The proposed development would not have a significant or unacceptable effect on carbon/climate change.”

They added: “It is likely that increased economic prosperity in the South East and East of England would not be at the expense of growth elsewhere in the country but would rather assist the growth of the UK economy as a whole.

"There is no reason to believe that the development would divert investment from other parts of the country that need investment or prejudice the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda, particularly as the development seeks to meet an established need for airport expansion in the south-east of England.”

The Indie has asked MAG, Uttlesford council, Residents for Uttlesford and Stop Stansted Expansion to comment on the verdict.

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