Bid to block expansion of Stansted, to 43mppa, hits the final buffers

Uttlesford District Council (UDC) had applied to the High Court to judicially review the decision by the planning inspectorate, to allow expansion of Stansted, citing noise and environmental concerns.  A High Court judge has now dismissed UDC’s challenge as “unarguable”, and awarded yet more costs against the authority.  UDC has decided not to challenge this decision.  UDC’s Planning Committee originally refused Stansted permission to boost capacity from 35mppa to 43mppa, in January 2020. (Earlier, in November 2018, UDC had approved the plan, when the council was under Conservative leadership).  Government inspectors then overturned the UDC decision in May 2021, after a process which cost Uttlesford taxpayers something approaching £2 million.  The Council had fought hard to prevent the increase in Stansted flights, largely due to the increased noise problem, as well as the higher carbon emissions. Local campaign, Stansted Airport Watch, says this latest rejection marks the end of the road for moves to block the expansion. However, with the Covid pandemic and growing awareness of climate breakdown, Stansted may never actually reach 43mppa anyway. 



Bid to block airport expansion reaches the end of the runway

By Will Durrant  (Saffron Walden Reporter)

October 7, 2021

Councillors will not contest a High Court ruling which lets Stansted Airport increase its capacity by eight million passengers per year.

Uttlesford District councillors agreed to end their attempts to block the airport’s plan to build nine new aircraft stands at a meeting yesterday (October 6).

Councillors insisted that the process so far – which is rumoured to have cost £2.5 million – is money well spent to secure a green future for children in the region.

But opposition councillors have disagreed and called on senior UDC politicians to apologise for a “waste” of taxpayers’ money.

Residents for Uttlesford councillor Louise Pepper, who is responsible for green issues at UDC, said there was no cause for regret.

Cllr Pepper said: “This was not a politicised planning application, it was a moral obligation to secure our children’s future.”

She added: “The cost to the planet far outweighs the cost to our council.

Another Stansted review could cost UDC £100,000 – IF Uttlesford wins

“Stansted Airport is our biggest CO2 emitter in the East, but rather conveniently, it is not included in our district’s carbon accounting because it is out of our scope.”

The council’s Planning Committee originally denied Stansted Airport permission to boost capacity.

But government inspectors overturned the council’s judgement in May after a process which cost Uttlesford taxpayers £1,034,000 – plus £15,000 to cover Stansted Airport’s appeal costs.

The council asked the High Court to review the decision citing noise and environmental concerns, a request which judges denied.

Councillors have accepted the ruling, which has been hailed a “disaster”.

Cllr George Smith (Conservatives) said: “The total £2.5 million could have been better spent on so many council services.

“The taxpayers deserve an apology from this council for the waste of that money.”

Cllr Smith said council leaders should accept responsibility for the result.

He said: “It is not fair to argue that the government and the inspectors did not consider the environment.”

Cllr Paul Fairhurst, who was an R4U member before defecting to the Greens in 2019, tabled a vote calling for senior R4U politicians to resign at the meeting.

He said: “This is a disaster. Our every request for explanation and clarification was met with ‘legal privilege’ or simply – ‘members have no role in these proceedings’.”

Cllr Fairhurst claimed an emergency meeting to discuss the plans took a month to schedule.

He said: “The leadership actively stifled this and instead withdrew to a secret meeting, and we were put in our place and told to get written answers to all our questions.

“To date, these answers have not been received.”

Members voted not to force leaders to resign 19 votes to 12.

UDC deputy leader Cllr Petrina Lees said after the meeting: “We have had to stop appealing now because services may have had to be reduced if we continued to spend.

“There was a lot of chit-chat in tonight’s meeting that we have lost around £2.5 million.

“We have not lost this money because we budgeted for it.”

Cllr Melvin Caton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “It’s sad that we get to a situation where people haven’t got humility in the face of a big disaster for the district.

“Stansted Airport is the biggest influence in the district, and it’s gone pear-shaped.”

Cllr Caton represents Stansted South and Birchanger, a council ward near the airport.

When asked about job opportunities for his voters, he replied: “Employees are important and they’ve gone through a bad time – I’m in favour of more jobs on site.

“For me, it’s about balancing the environmental impacts with economic activity.”

Stansted Airport has welcomed the council’s decision.

An airport spokesperson said: “It was regrettable that UDC allowed itself to be misled by environmental assertions that were not based in fact.

“The High Court’s dismissal of this reckless move from UDC means we can focus fully on our vision for Stansted, continuing our hard work to recover following the pandemic.”


Comment from a Stansted campaigner:

Uttlesford District Council have just voted not to seek to challenge the High Court’s refusal of permission for a judicial review.  This marks the end of the road.  In reality, the damage was done earlier this year at the Public Inquiry where UDC – bizarrely – did not seek to defend their Planning Committee’s unanimous refusal of Stansted’s planning application for expansion to 43mppa.

Instead, they proposed a compromise – to approve the expansion subject to certain conditions.  That strategy was widely condemned at the 6th October Council meeting, with calls for multiple resignations.  The Chief Executive resigned in July and the Assistant Director (Planning) resigned last month.  The Director of Public Services (who is also the Deputy Chief Executive) has also now submitted his resignation.  However, the UDC Leader and Deputy Leader are resisting calls for their resignation.

UDC’s capitulation at the Public Inquiry is now to be the subject of an investigation. The only comfort is that Covid-19 has set back the expansion of Stansted Airport by several years and the approval for 43mppa may prove to be academic.


New defeat and extra £60,000 bill for Uttlesford District Council over Stansted Airport expansion

By Sinead Corr –  (Bishops’ Stortford Independent)

5 October 2021

A High Court judge has dismissed Uttlesford District Council’s latest challenge to expansion at Stansted Airport as “unarguable” and awarded yet more costs against the authority.

Failure of the council’s application for a statutory planning review has added more than £60,000 to its bill, estimated to be approaching £2m, as a result of its opposition to the bid by Stansted owner Manchester Airports Group (MAG) to increase the passenger limit from 35 million a year to 43m.

The Residents for Uttlesford-led council went to court to try to overturn permission which was granted by a panel of three independent planning inspectors in May.

MAG had appealed after UDC defied independent legal advice and refused planning permission in January 2020, overturning the approval it granted in November 2018 when it was led by the Conservatives.

On Monday, Stansted Airport managing director Steve Griffiths said: “We welcome the decision by the High Court and the unambiguous clarity and certainty it provides on the thoroughness of the public inquiry process and the strength of our application.

“It was regrettable that Uttlesford District Council allowed itself to be misled by environmental assertions that were not based in fact. Without credible or substantiated reasons to justify its refusal of our planning application, and with clear advice from the council’s own officers and expert advisers that the application should be approved, we were left with no choice but to appeal the decision.

“The High Court’s dismissal of this latest reckless move from Uttlesford District Council means we can now get back to focusing fully on our vision for Stansted, continuing our hard work to recover following the devastating effects of the pandemic.

“We look forward to welcoming more passengers and airlines back to Stansted in the months and years ahead, and playing a vital role in the local community and wider region, helping to create jobs, economic value and international connectivity in a sustainable and responsible way.”

Mrs Justice Lang comprehensively dismissed the council’s case. She said it was unarguable to contend that the inspectors “failed to have regard to relevant policy developments in relation to climate change and carbon emissions and/or the limitations and reservations in national aviation policy”.

She also slapped down Uttlesford’s claim that the award of appeal costs to the airport was “spiteful” and “unprincipled”, saying “the inspector who actually hears the appeal is in the best position to judge whether an award should be made”.

She further ruled the council should pay around £15,000 each to the airport and the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government in respect of her ruling.

The Indie asked R4U if its leader Cllr John Lodge or any cabinet members would be resigning in light of the judgment and a Local Planning Authority Peer Review criticising how its planning department operates.

Party chairman Dan Starr came out fighting. He said: “While the Government is making many proclamations promising to reduce UK carbon emissions ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, its actions in permitting unconstrained airport expansion are totally opposed to its climate change claims.

“By allowing yet more huge increases in CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions rather than reductions, the Government has shown a very serious dereliction of duty.

“Stansted Airport, while a good local employer, also has to bear the significant responsibilities of any growth. Its shareholders want to generate more profits for themselves, but in this case would be at the expense of our local environment and the planet.

“As the Government disappointingly continues to try to remove the ability for legal challenges, we urge our councillors at UDC to once again take collective cross-party responsibility on the next steps the council can take to put our planet first.”

The issue is set to be discussed at a meeting of the full council tonight (Tuesday, Oct 6) and again at a supplementary meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct 6) and that consensus seems unlikely. Newly appointed chief executive Peter Holt has recommended no further legal action.

Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Melvin Caton said: “I am certain that when local people voted for R4U in 2019 they did not expect to end up with the worst of all worlds – an expanded airport and costs approaching £2m.

“As we warned, the Stansted planning debacle has now cost the council itself £1.073m to date. In addition, this High Court action, including awards of costs, totalled at least £60,000. On top of this, the planning inspectors at the appeal decision have already awarded Stansted Airport costs amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds against Uttlesford.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Christian Criscione said: “At the expense of millions of pounds meant to benefit our communities, this administration tried playing politics with the planning system, bodged their attempt and now look to blame anyone but themselves for their failure.

“The very fact is that the decision of the inspectors, and now the High Court, make it clear that there was no valid reason to withhold and withdraw Stansted’s planning permission. A Conservative administration would work with the district’s largest employer, supporting jobs in a way that impacts communities around the airport as little as possible.”

Stansted Airport Watch (SAW), formerly Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), backed UDC in its High Court action. Chairman Brian Ross admitted: “The refusal of the High Court to grant UDC permission for a judicial review is disappointing but not entirely surprising.

“UDC’s position on this planning application has been totally confusing from start to finish. From one month to the next you would never be quite sure whether it was supporting the application or opposing it. It was this inconsistency that resulted in UDC being ordered to pay all of MAG’s costs.

“The reason there was no costs award against SSE was that our position – vigorously opposing the airport planning application – was clear and consistent from start to finish.

“UDC now has to decide whether to try to appeal the judge’s decision to refuse permission for a judicial review, as it is entitled to do. Our position, as always, is that we will do our utmost to support UDC in this matter, including in the High Court, if UDC decides to press on with its appeal.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We are disappointed with this ruling. We will carefully consider the implications and advise our councillors on options over the coming days. The council will continue to act in the best interests of the district and its residents.”