SSE accuses Stansted Airport bosses of orchestrating support campaign among business community
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has accused Stansted Airport of orchestrating a 'Project Fear' campaign.
The campaigners allege airport bosses are pressurising Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to grant final approval for Manchester Airports Group's (MAG) 2018 planning application for passenger growth from 35m a year to 43m.
SSE top brass believe their backing for expansion is "based on briefing material provided by Stansted Airport".
The group's deputy chairman, Brian Ross, said: "Stansted Airport and its friends in the business community need to get real – both in relation to the dubious economic benefits of expanding Stansted Airport and the far-reaching environmental consequences.
"They should also desist from seeking to bully and intimidate the democratically elected local council members who have a responsibility to consider the wider picture, not only narrow commercial interests."
SSE is pursuing a judicial review challenge aimed at forcing the 43m planning application to be dealt with nationally rather than locally. The case has been scheduled for a three-day hearing before Mr Justice Dove in the High Court from November 12 to 14.
Mr Ross said: "It's a bit rich now for Stansted Airport's friends in the business community to be asking the Secretary of State to intervene.
"SSE has argued from the very beginning, more than two years ago, that this planning application should be determined nationally rather than locally. That remains our position. It's a complex application and it's no surprise that UDC has been wrestling with it for two years.
"We will be delighted if the Secretary of State finally decides to take responsibility for determining this application, which would have the added benefit of saving us the expense of a legal challenge."
SSE said the suggestion that the council's decision to review the latest Stansted Airport planning application was putting "thousands of jobs at risk" was "preposterous" on the basis that the airport handled fewer than 28m passengers last year and already has permission to handle 35m.
It is also sceptical about the contribution of the airport to the regional business economy. It claims Ryanair accounts for four out of every five passengers at Stansted and "its primary function is to provide cheap short-haul flights for UK residents travelling on overseas leisure trips".
Business travel accounted for 12% of Stansted's passengers last year – the lowest figure for any major UK airport and down from 23% in 2000. SEE said more business flights to "China, India or anywhere else in the world" could already be comfortably accommodated.
The campaigners also argue Stansted caters for more than twice as many UK tourists travelling abroad compared to the number of foreign tourists coming into the UK. Last year's figures were 14.8m outbound tourists compared to 7.1m inbound.
SSE says: "Stansted's main employment impact is, therefore, to provide jobs for hotel, catering and leisure workers in holiday destinations such as Tenerife and Torremolinos rather than in the East of England."
Also, the protesters believe that as the "biggest single source of carbon emissions in the East of England", the threat the airport poses to climate change outweighs the benefits of growth.