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New defeat and extra £60,000 bill for Uttlesford District Council over Stansted Airport expansion



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A High Court judge has dismissed Uttlesford District Council’s latest challenge to expansion at Stansted Airport as “unarguable” and awarded yet more costs against the authority.

Failure of the council's application for a statutory planning review has added more than £60,000 to its bill, estimated to be approaching £2m, as a result of its opposition to the bid by Stansted owner Manchester Airports Group (MAG) to increase the passenger limit from 35 million a year to 43m.

The Residents for Uttlesford-led council went to court to try to overturn permission which was granted by a panel of three independent planning inspectors in May.

Stansted Airport terminal (51929549)
Stansted Airport terminal (51929549)

MAG had appealed after UDC defied independent legal advice and refused planning permission in January 2020, overturning the approval it granted in November 2018 when it was led by the Conservatives.

On Monday, Stansted Airport managing director Steve Griffiths said: “We welcome the decision by the High Court and the unambiguous clarity and certainty it provides on the thoroughness of the public inquiry process and the strength of our application.

“It was regrettable that Uttlesford District Council allowed itself to be misled by environmental assertions that were not based in fact. Without credible or substantiated reasons to justify its refusal of our planning application, and with clear advice from the council’s own officers and expert advisers that the application should be approved, we were left with no choice but to appeal the decision.

Stansted Airport managing director Steve Griffiths
Stansted Airport managing director Steve Griffiths

“The High Court’s dismissal of this latest reckless move from Uttlesford District Council means we can now get back to focusing fully on our vision for Stansted, continuing our hard work to recover following the devastating effects of the pandemic.

“We look forward to welcoming more passengers and airlines back to Stansted in the months and years ahead, and playing a vital role in the local community and wider region, helping to create jobs, economic value and international connectivity in a sustainable and responsible way.”

Mrs Justice Lang comprehensively dismissed the council’s case. She said it was unarguable to contend that the inspectors “failed to have regard to relevant policy developments in relation to climate change and carbon emissions and/or the limitations and reservations in national aviation policy”.

She also slapped down Uttlesford’s claim that the award of appeal costs to the airport was “spiteful” and “unprincipled”, saying “the inspector who actually hears the appeal is in the best position to judge whether an award should be made”.

Stansted Airport. (51929587)
Stansted Airport. (51929587)

She further ruled the council should pay around £15,000 each to the airport and the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government in respect of her ruling.

The Indie asked R4U if its leader Cllr John Lodge or any cabinet members would be resigning in light of the judgment and a Local Planning Authority Peer Review criticising how its planning department operates.

Party chairman Dan Starr came out fighting. He said: “While the Government is making many proclamations promising to reduce UK carbon emissions ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, its actions in permitting unconstrained airport expansion are totally opposed to its climate change claims.

Uttlesford District Council leader John Lodge (51929854)
Uttlesford District Council leader John Lodge (51929854)

“By allowing yet more huge increases in CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions rather than reductions, the Government has shown a very serious dereliction of duty.

"Stansted Airport, while a good local employer, also has to bear the significant responsibilities of any growth. Its shareholders want to generate more profits for themselves, but in this case would be at the expense of our local environment and the planet.

“As the Government disappointingly continues to try to remove the ability for legal challenges, we urge our councillors at UDC to once again take collective cross-party responsibility on the next steps the council can take to put our planet first.”

The issue is set to be discussed at a meeting of the full council tonight (Tuesday, Oct 6) and again at a supplementary meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct 6) and that consensus seems unlikely. Newly appointed chief executive Peter Holt has recommended no further legal action.

Uttlesford council's Liberal Democrat opposition group leader Melvin Caton (Stansted South & Birchanger)
Uttlesford council's Liberal Democrat opposition group leader Melvin Caton (Stansted South & Birchanger)

Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Melvin Caton said: “I am certain that when local people voted for R4U in 2019 they did not expect to end up with the worst of all worlds – an expanded airport and costs approaching £2m.

“As we warned, the Stansted planning debacle has now cost the council itself £1.073m to date. In addition, this High Court action, including awards of costs, totalled at least £60,000. On top of this, the planning inspectors at the appeal decision have already awarded Stansted Airport costs amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds against Uttlesford.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Christian Criscione
Conservative group leader Cllr Christian Criscione

Conservative group leader Cllr Christian Criscione said: “At the expense of millions of pounds meant to benefit our communities, this administration tried playing politics with the planning system, bodged their attempt and now look to blame anyone but themselves for their failure.

“The very fact is that the decision of the inspectors, and now the High Court, make it clear that there was no valid reason to withhold and withdraw Stansted’s planning permission. A Conservative administration would work with the district’s largest employer, supporting jobs in a way that impacts communities around the airport as little as possible.”

Stansted Airport Watch (SAW), formerly Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), backed UDC in its High Court action. Chairman Brian Ross admitted: “The refusal of the High Court to grant UDC permission for a judicial review is disappointing but not entirely surprising.

Stansted Airport Watch (SAW) chairman Brian Ross
Stansted Airport Watch (SAW) chairman Brian Ross

“UDC’s position on this planning application has been totally confusing from start to finish. From one month to the next you would never be quite sure whether it was supporting the application or opposing it. It was this inconsistency that resulted in UDC being ordered to pay all of MAG’s costs.

"The reason there was no costs award against SSE was that our position – vigorously opposing the airport planning application – was clear and consistent from start to finish.

“UDC now has to decide whether to try to appeal the judge’s decision to refuse permission for a judicial review, as it is entitled to do. Our position, as always, is that we will do our utmost to support UDC in this matter, including in the High Court, if UDC decides to press on with its appeal.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We are disappointed with this ruling. We will carefully consider the implications and advise our councillors on options over the coming days. The council will continue to act in the best interests of the district and its residents.”



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