Councils face £1m bill over ‘unreasonable’ block on Stansted expansion

17.10.2008   (UK Airport News)

An unprecedented decision means council tax payers in Hertfordshire will have
to foot part of a £1m bill after Herts County Council was found to have acted
‘unreasonably’ while opposing the
Stansted Airport expansion.

After hearing six months of evidence at a public inquiry last year, planning
inspector Alan Boyland concluded that the inadequacies of the case presented by
Uttlesford district and Herts county councils mean they should pay part of BAA’s
costs, estimated at more than £1m. Along with Essex, the councils spent £430,000
presenting their case.

Mr Boyland’s recommendation that expansion from a maximum of 25m to 35m passengers
a year should be allowed, in accordance with 2003’s Air Transport White Paper,
was endorsed by the Government last week – as was his finding that the councils’
flawed arguments put the airport to some unnecessary expense when it appealed
against refusal of planning permission.

The rarity of the ruling – believed to be a first – is emphasised in a letter
from the Department for Communities and Local Government to both councils, which
reads: ‘In planning appeals both parties are normally expected to meet their own
expenses and costs are only awarded on grounds of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ resulting
in unnecessary expense.’

‘The Secretary of State [Hazel Blears] agrees with the inspector and accepts
his recommendations.   Accordingly she has decided that an award of partial costs
against Uttlesford District Council and Herts County Council on the grounds of
unreasonable behaviour is justified.’
see also
October 2008

The text of the statement made by Brian Ross, Economics Adviser to Stop Stansted
Expansion to the Full Council Meeting at Uttlesford District Council last night,
21 October, appears below.

* * * * *
It’s always a pleasure to address UDC – especially when there is no need to be
critical or to harangue.    On the issue of a second runway (G2) at Stansted, we
are all singing from the same hymn-sheet.
However, before speaking about G2, I want to say a few words about the G1 decision
announced two weeks ago, approving an extra 10mppa.   The Government’s decision
flies in the face of the evidence presented to the Public Inquiry.
We are currently taking legal advice on the G1 decision because we believe it
is flawed. The Government simply dismissed the evidence which it found inconvenient.    
If our legal advice is that we should challenge then we shall do so.   Our accountants
will have palpitations but this decision is too important to be made by accountants
because it may have implications for the G2 battle.     No accountant has ever won
a Victoria Cross.  
We have always assured the community that we will fight BAA every step of the
way and we owe it to the community to honour that pledge.   However, we would not
waste our hard-earned funds on a frivolous challenge.  
Uttlesford also has to decide whether to challenge the G1 decision and, of course,
also the costs award.   However I don’t think you need be unduly concerned about
the latter.
The costs award is limited to six issues and BAA is entitled only to costs incurred
“over and above that which was necessary to address the cases of third parties”
With the exception of the Little Hadham by-pass issue, I cannot think of any
additional costs incurred by BAA solely to deal with UDC’s points because SSE
comprehensively challenged BAA on the other five points and in some instances
so did other third parties.  
The key phrase is “over and above” the costs that BAA had to incur to address
the cases of third parties.   The only issue is therefore the contribution which
HCC sought from BAA for the Little Hadham by-pass.   SSE did not get involved in
that argument.  
However, far more important is whether to appeal the G1 decision itself and that
must   depend on your legal advice.  
There’s a lot at stake.   Not just an extra 10mppa but the risk that if left unchallenged
the G1 decision could undermine our case – and your case – against a second runway.  
G1 has been a long battle and I know it’s not this Council’s style to throw in
the towel.  
When the legal advice is available it will not be black and white.   Legal advice
never is.   There will be a judgement to make.   All I ask is that it should be
a judgement for elected members and not for accountants.
Briefly on G2 – I don’t need to preach to the converted but there’s just one
point I want to make.     So much has changed since BAA submitted its planning application
for a second runway in March that it would now be premature – and probably a waste
of everyone’s time and money to proceed with the Public Inquiry next Spring.
Economic:   The dramatic changes that have taken place in world financial markets
in the time since the G2 application was submitted make it wholly unrealistic
to believe that the growth in air travel will continue henceforth on a ‘business
as usual’ basis.   Stansted is   already 25,000 passengers a week down on last year.  
This seems likely to get much worse long before it starts getting better.
Regulatory:   The future ownership of Stansted is uncertain following the publication
of the Competition Commission’s ‘Provisional Findings’ report in August on its
Market Inquiry into BAA airports, concluding that two of BAA’s three London airports
should be sold.   The Commission will publish its final report in February.     If
it maintains its current view, we believe it likely that G2 will be aborted.
Political:     If the Inquiry were to proceed as currently planned, the political
context at the end could be radically different from the current policy context.  
The current Government supports a second Stansted runway but the Conservatives
have now joined the Libdems in openly opposing a second runway.   Moreover, the
Inquiry process cannot run its full   course this side of a General Election.
However, G2 is tomorrow’s battle.   Today’s battle is still G1.     We have until
20 November to decide whether to appeal.  
Brian Ross (primary contact) 01279 814961, 07850 937143,

Carol Barbone 0777 552 3091,