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Stansted Airport planning inquiry: Manchester Airports Group seeks costs from Uttlesford District Council as hearing into passenger expansion refusal ends early

Stansted Airport’s expansion appeal has ended with agreement among Uttlesford District Council’s opponents and allies that the local authority has failed.

If the panel of Government planning inquiry inspectors agrees, residents face a hefty bill to cover Manchester Airports Group’s costs after district councillors defied advice from their own officers and legal counsel by blocking planning permission for the limit on the number of passengers at the airport to be raised to 43 million a year.

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

Stansted Airport terminal (45195930)
Stansted Airport terminal (45195930)

MAG’s planning application to increase the current 35m-a-year cap on passenger numbers was approved in November 2018 when the Conservatives were in charge of UDC. In June 2019, after Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) took control, members voted to return the application to the planning committee. Their decision defied planning officers and independent legal counsel – and councillors again disregarded expert advice in January 2020 by rejecting the growth application, triggering MAG’s appeal.

Mr Hill said of the council in his application for costs: “It has abandoned any attempt to defend the four reasons for refusal promulgated by its committee... It has therefore come full circle to the position endorsed by its highly experienced planning officers in their comprehensive officer report dated November 2018 and accepted by the previous committee in resolving to grant permission.”

Lib Dem, Conservative and Green Party councillors are now demanding that R4U addresses concerns at the next scheduled meeting of Uttlesford’s full council on April 13, currently “cancelled” on UDC’s website.

Stansted Airport. (45195977)
Stansted Airport. (45195977)

Stansted South and Birchanger Lib Dem Cllr Ayub Khan added: “Not only has Uttlesford failed to support its own planning committee, it has created the opportunity for MAG to ask for costs because of the council’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

"They even quote Cllr Neil Hargreaves, the R4U portfolio holder for finance, who commented in July 2019 that £3m of reserves were available to cover costs.

“All residents in Uttlesford now face not only the possibility of the environmental disaster of an expanded airport but also the financial impact of an award of costs running into seven figures because of the R4U-run council’s perfidious behaviour.”

SSE was represented at the appeal and said as it closed: “There was no attempt whatsoever by UDC to mount a robust defence.”

A decision is expected in three months. Meanwhile, UDC claims MAG has not followed the correct procedure to claim costs and added: “The merits of its case, as submitted and examined, remains a matter for the inspectors.”

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