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Uttlesford District Council to bar press and public from meeting about Stansted Airport planning inquiry

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A veil of secrecy has been thrown over an extraordinary meeting of Uttlesford District Council (UDC) demanded by members to discuss January's Stansted Airport planning inquiry.

The meeting will take place on Thursday, January 7 – but the press and public will be excluded from the deliberations when the authority goes into a closed session.

Earlier this month, the leader of the council's Liberal Democrat opposition, Cllr Alan Dean (Stansted North), confirmed that a cross-party group of 10 councillors wanted answers about Uttlesford's approach to the planning appeal by Stansted Airport owner Manchester Airports Group (MAG).

Cllr Alan Dean is leader of the Liberal Democrats on Uttlesford District Council
Cllr Alan Dean is leader of the Liberal Democrats on Uttlesford District Council

The motion for debate, now added to the agenda after a request from Cllr Dean and a question from the Indie, reads: "On the eve of the largest defence of a planning appeal relating to Stansted Airport that this council has faced in more than a decade, council calls for a full debate in which all members of the executive explain the current status and process that has been followed since January, 2020 by the council’s defence team.

"The objectives of such explanation would be to satisfy the council of the soundness, objectivity and objectives of the process to date and henceforth intended.

"Furthermore, council resolves to set up as soon as possible a member-led initiative to engage with the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) or similar body to audit and scrutinise the process applied since 2018."

Stansted Airport terminal (43766959)
Stansted Airport terminal (43766959)

The agenda, published on the council's website, says public and press are excluded from the airport debate because of "information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings".

The meeting behind closed doors is the latest procedural twist in more than two years of controversy which has seen the council approve and then refuse MAG's plans to raise the passenger cap at Stansted from 35 million a year to 43m. Before lockdown, the airport handled 28m a year.

In November 2018, the then Conservative-run council voted to approve the increase. But the Tories were routed by R4U in the May 2019 local elections and the decision was sent back to the planning committee and reversed in January last year – defying independent legal advice and the authority's own officers.

Planning councillors ruled that MAG had failed to demonstrate its proposals would not result in an increased detrimental effect from noise and pollution and other environmental impact. The councillors also regarded MAG's infrastructure proposals as inadequate.

MAG had argued that its proposals could be delivered without any increase in the 274,000 flights a year that are currently allowed, but following MAG's appeal against UDC's revised decision to the Planning Inspectorate, a public inquiry before three experts is set to begin at the Radisson Blu hotel on January 12 and continue until April.

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