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Rebel councillors force delay in Stansted Airport planning permission until after election

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Stansted Airport. (9340000)
Stansted Airport. (9340000)

Protesters have succeeded in delaying final approval for Stansted Airport expansion until after the local elections on Thursday (May 2).

Uttlesford District Council's (UDC) Conservative administration was set last Friday (April 26) to rubber-stamp permission for 43m passengers a year.

At an extraordinary meeting of the council at its Saffron Walden HQ the evening before (April 25), UDC leader Cllr Howard Rolfe had told members that delay could lead to a charge of non-determination with "a potential cost even as much as £1million".

He got backing from his party when 18 Tories defeated 14 cross-party opponents for a motion requiring the planning committee to review the Section 106 infrastructure and investment agreements that form part of the planning permission to allow the airport to expand beyond its current cap of 35m passengers a year.

However, the councillors backing a delay then mounted a rearguard action. At the end of the meeting they signed a cross-party requisition to convene a second extraordinary meeting – this time to examine the legal justification for council officers' claims that the draft agreement lines up with the planning decision.

The surprise move blocked the airport's application being finalised the next day and the follow-up meeting will not take place until after Thursday's local elections, at which the Liberal Democrats and Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) hope to wipe out the Tories as the main party.

UDC is currently made up of 24 Conservatives, four Lib Dems and ten R4U members. There is one vacant seat.

Peter Sanders, chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), which lobbied for the delay, said: "It is beyond comprehension why our own local council wanted to rush through approval of this planning application by accepting a totally inadequate package of local safeguards and community benefits.

"The draft Section 106 agreement which contained the proposed safeguards and benefits did not even meet the minimum requirements set down by the council's own planning committee.

"Thankfully, there will now be an opportunity to look at this afresh in a less frenzied atmosphere after the local elections have run their course, whatever that course may be."

SSE is pressing ahead with its High Court case with the aim of forcing either Transport Secretary Chris Grayling or Communities Secretary James Brokenshire – or both – to take direct charge of the current Stansted Airport planning application. The judge is expected to announce dates for the judicial review at the next update hearing on May 23.

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