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Councillors call for scrutiny after Uttlesford gives green light to Stansted Airport expansion

Records tumble at Stansted Airport. (6445321)
Records tumble at Stansted Airport. (6445321)

Permission for growth at Stansted Airport has prompted pleas for a review of how Uttlesford District Council processes such planning applications.

Two members – Conservative Mark Lemon, the Hatfield Heath representative and Cllr Barbara Light, the Residents for Uttlesford member for Saffron Walden's Audley ward seat – have called for the independent external examination and the authority's scrutiny committee was considering the issue last night (Tuesday, January 15).

In November, months of fierce debate and campaigning by Stop Stansted Expansion to have the application determined by the government, not the council came to a head.

Members of the district planning committee were deadlocked along party lines over Manchester Airports Group's application to raise the cap on annual passenger numbers from 35 million to 43m – a 56% increase on the current figure of 27.6m – until Conservative committee chairman Cllr Alan Mills used his casting vote to grant permission. However formal consent has not yet been issued at the request of the Secretary of Ste for Housing, Communities & Local Government, James Brokenshire.

Last night, officers made it clear to the committee that it was not appropriate to scrutinise individual decisions made by or on behalf of the council's regulatory committees, including decisions on individual applications made by the planning committee.

Cllrs Lemon and Light want one of the focuses of the scoping proposals to be the effectiveness of communication and consultation in respect of major planning applications.

A report to the committee noted: "The council's planning committee recently resolved to approve a major planning application made by the Manchester Airports Group in respect of Stansted Airport. It was a complex process, involving consultation, briefing and other forms of engagement with stakeholders. The overall objective in terms of engagement in this context is to ensure that stakeholders have the opportunity to gain a clear understanding of the nature and potential impact of large scale development proposals and also have the opportunity to express their views, so that these may be taken into account by the planning committee as the decision-making body.

"Extensive work went into engagement with the public and with elected members. It will always be the case that some aspects of engagement will have been more effective than others.

"Whilst there is merit in looking at the effectiveness of the council's approach to engagement in relation to the Stansted application, and other major applications, officers strongly advise that the scope of any review should clearly exclude a review of the merits of the decision made by the planning committee, including any review of the merits of planning and other professional advice placed before the committee.

"In the Stansted application, for example, the report to the planning committee was reviewed in detail by a barrister expert in airport-related planning applications.

The officers further caution: "The Stansted application is still 'live' and it would not be appropriate to review it at the present time. The consent has not yet been issued and is on hold at the request of the Secretary of State. There is litigation underway regarding determination of the application, albeit that UDC is not a direct party to this. It would not be prudent to pursue a scrutiny review in parallel to live litigation.

"Finally, there is still the possibility of legal challenge to the planning committee's decision, which will remain a risk until the expiry of six weeks from the issue of a planning consent."

Both Uttlesford's Liberal Democrats and Stop Stansted Expansion are trying to overturn the planning permission.

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