18th August 2020
Irresponsible, unnecessary and wasteful
As expected, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has now formally appealed against Uttlesford’s refusal of its 2018 Planning Application which sought approval for an increase in Stansted’s permitted annual throughput from 35 million to 43 million passengers per annum. As matters stand this means that a Public Inquiry will need to be convened to review the Application.
SSE has branded MAG’s decision to appeal as “irresponsible, unnecessary and wasteful”.
Stansted handled 29 million passengers last year but, as a result of Covid-19, will handle only about half of that number of passengers this year. Most commentators agree that it will take between three and five years before air travel returns to the levels seen in 2019.
Why then is MAG stubbornly pressing ahead with this appeal? There is clearly no urgency for any increase in the 35 million passengers per annum that Stansted is already allowed to handle. Moreover, it would be entirely open for MAG to reconsider its position when – and if – the need for an increase in the 35 million limit were to arise in the future.
Unless it can be prevented (see below) the Public Inquiry would probably begin in the early part of next year and it would last between two and three months. It would be very costly for MAG, UDC and SSE because each side would need to appoint its own barristers, consultants and expert witnesses.
There are also practical difficulties in holding a Public Inquiry during the current pandemic. Finding a suitable local venue would be a problem in itself because airport Inquiries can attract a large number of members of the public. It’s nothing short of irresponsible for MAG to create this unnecessary public health risk at this time.
SSE continues to seek to prevent this unnecessary and wasteful Public Inquiry with a legal challenge aimed at forcing the Secretary of State to deal with MAG’s planning application at national level. The High Court considered the matter last November and ruled (in February 2020) that the Secretary of State was not obliged to intervene. SSE’s legal challenge is now ‘in the queue’ at the Court of Appeal but we currently have no indication as to when it will be heard.
Importantly, if SSE’s appeal succeeds, there will be no need for a Public Inquiry. That is the outcome we should all hope for, particularly in the current Covid-19 circumstances.