Tourism chief accuses Uttlesford council of harming economy over Stansted Airport delay
Uttlesford District Council has been accused of wasting taxpayers' money on "political sport" by a tourism chief and risking thousands of jobs by delaying final approval for expansion at Stansted Airport.
The new Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration at UDC is reviewing planning permission granted by the former Conservative-controlled council to increase the airport's passenger cap from 35 million to 43 million a year without an increase in the maximum number of flights allowed.
Visit East of England executive director Pete Waters said: "Having given permission last autumn for the start of a £600m transformation programme, it is extremely disappointing that ten months on Uttlesford District Council is no further forward on this issue and prefers instead to waste taxpayers' money on political sport."
In June, the Government published a Tourism Sector Deal allowing regions to bid to become one of five new tourism zones across England that will receive support to drive visitor numbers.
Mr Waters said: "The East of England is in a good position to submit a strong proposal to become a Tourism Zone, but this move by Uttlesford District Council sends completely the wrong message about the region's commitment to growing the sector. It could also jeopardise future opportunities to bid for funding, at a time when the East of England needs to be doing everything it can to grow our economy.
'The airport's unrivalled access to Europe and potential new destinations in the US, Asia and the Middle East will further open up the region to inbound leisure passengers and help promote tourist attractions across Essex, including Saffron Walden and Audley End House, and tourist hotspots across the wider region such as IWM Duxford, Newmarket Racecourse, the Norfolk Broads and Suffolk coast, and historic cities of Cambridge and Norwich.
"If we are to continue to benefit from inbound tourism in our region, and the tens of thousands of jobs and millions of pounds that come with it, then it's vital that local government supports sustainable and responsible plans put forward by their local airports. If they don't, airlines will choose to go elsewhere – be that in this country or other markets across Europe and around the world."
Mr Waters said that with more than 12m inbound passengers a year, Stansted plays a vital role in supporting the UK tourism industry, not only as London's third airport but also as the international gateway to the East of England.
According to the Government's East of England Forecasting Model and UK Commission for Employment and Skills' Working Futures survey, the region's visitor economy is expected to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024, double the growth across the overall economy.
More than 246,000 people in the region are dependent on the travel and tourism sector for their livelihoods, and around a third of travel and tourism jobs are held by young people aged 16-24 compared to 12% of all jobs in the wider economy.
Uttlesford District Council has been invited to comment.