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Stansted Airport: Uttlesford District Council begins legal challenge against planning appeal decision to grant growth

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Uttlesford District Council has begun a legal challenge against planning permission for 43 million passengers a year at Stansted Airport.

The authority faces an estimated £2m costs bill after a panel of inquiry inspectors allowed an appeal by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) against UDC's refusal to allow its application to raise the current 35m-a-year cap on travellers through the terminal.

The experts heard evidence over three months from the council, Stop Stansted Expansion (now rebranded to Stansted Airport Watch) and MAG before rejecting objections and ruling that Uttlesford's "unreasonable behaviour" meant it should pay the airport's full costs.

Stansted Airport. (48266758)
Stansted Airport. (48266758)

The council's only option is to challenge the lawfulness of the inspectors' May 26 decision through a judicial review.

In a statement released on Wednesday (June 16), Uttlesford said that in light of legal advice it had received, it is asking the High Court for permission to challenge the validity of the panel's verdict. In line with the delegated decision by council officers rather than elected members, an application is being prepared and will be submitted before the court deadline of July 8.

Cllr John Lodge, leader of the council, which is run by the Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) party, said: "The reasons that the inspectors gave in their letters were not sufficiently clear to enable the residents of Uttlesford to understand why these particular decisions have been taken.

Uttlesford District Council leader John Lodge (48267524)
Uttlesford District Council leader John Lodge (48267524)

"We have accepted leading counsel's advice and are hopeful that the courts will grant a review of the panel's decisions. This is a two-stage process so we will need to wait to see what the outcome of our preliminary application is before deciding on our next steps."

In November 2018, UDC was run by the Conservatives. Then, its planning committee, on the casting vote of the chairman, approved MAG's application for the eight million increase in passenger numbers, two new taxiway links to the runway, plus six additional remote aircraft stands and three additional aircraft stands.

The plans do not increase the current maximum of 274,000 aircraft movements a year. The scheme also includes a legally binding commitment to reduce the airport's noise 'footprint' and an enhanced sound insulation scheme for householders.

After Cllr Lodge and his R4U party won control of the council in May 2019's local government elections, the decision was returned to the planning committee for review and was refused in January 2020 by 10 votes to nil, with two abstentions, triggering MAG's appeal.

Before both meetings, UDC officers and independent legal advisors advised there were no grounds to refuse the application.

A spokesman for Stansted Airport said: "We will wait to see the details of any potential challenge to the decision of the Planning Inspectorate, but any such steps taken by UDC is a matter for them."

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