Stansted inquiry to be rushed through to foil runway critics

1.11.2008   (Times)

by Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

The public inquiry into a second runway at Stansted is to be completed in record
time in an attempt by the Government to prevent the Conservatives cancelling the
project if they win the next general election.

For the first time, a significant planning inquiry will be heard in two separate
rooms at the same time.

Opponents of the new runway say that their arguments will not be heard properly
because they can afford just one barrister. BAA, the Spanish-owned airport company
seeking to make Stansted bigger than Heathrow is today, is expected to have five

The Conservatives have said that they would refuse planning permission for the
£2.3 billion new runway and terminal, which would add capacity for an extra 40
million passengers a year at Stansted.


But under the schedule for the inquiry, a copy of which has been obtained by
The Times, approval could be granted just before the election is called.  

The schedule states the lead inspector’s intention "to split the centre section
of the inquiry into two separate streams", to appoint three co-inspectors and
to complete the inquiry in six months.

The expansion would result in the loss of 35 historic buildings, including 13
that are Grade II listed, and the destruction of two scheduled ancient monuments.
The number of flights would more than double to 490,000 a year and the airport
would expand to take up three more square miles of countryside.

The inquiry, which starts on April 15, had been expected to take 18 months, meaning
that the inspector’s report would not have been handed to ministers for a decision
until well after June 3, 2010, the last possible date for an election.

The inquiry into Heathrow Terminal 5, which is between the existing two runways
on the site of an old sewage works, took almost four years despite involving no
loss of historic buildings or countryside.

Ministers intervened last year to put pressure on the planning inspectorate to
accelerate an earlier inquiry into expanding the number of flights using Stansted’s
existing runway.

The inspector said during that inquiry: "Ministers are taking a very keen interest
in this matter and they have asked for my report by Christmas, which is considerably
earlier than it would normally be."

A source close to next year’s inquiry said that there was strong pressure from
the Government for the report to be delivered in the shortest possible time.

A spokesman for Stop Stansted Expansion said: "The intention to rush this through
the inquiry process in the space of six months is quite simply outrageous. The
local community’s ability to participate fully in the inquiry will be severely
compromised by the plan to have parallel sessions examining different subjects
in different inquiry rooms at the same time.

"Both BAA and the Government know full well that this approach will make it impossible
for SSE and others to keep abreast of all the evidence and to cross-examine BAA
on all its evidence."   The spokesman added that a challenge could be brought under
European law, which enshrines the right to public participation in the decision-making
process.   The group will urge the inspector to revise the schedule at a preinquiry
meeting scheduled for November 10.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "New
rules were brought in to prevent planning inquiries from dragging on for years
and forcing local voices out because of unnecessary delays . . . The detailed
timing and process of inquiries is a matter for the independent inspector, who
will make recommendations to ministers in due course, having considered all the
evidence from parties."


Times Archive, 1964: Stansted to be London’s third airport

BOAC and BEA are strongly opposed to operating out of more than one London airport