8th October 2020
Campaign Update – October 2020
The current pandemic is having a major impact upon the aviation industry. Total passenger numbers at Stansted Airport over the past six months are down by 85% compared to the same period last year. We expect Stansted to handle only around 10m passengers in 2020, compared to 28m last year. The general consensus is that it will take around five years before passenger numbers return to 2019 levels, whilst some say that the demand for air travel will never fully recover.
Airport Planning Application
Despite the current depressed outlook for aviation, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) is continuing with its appeal against the decision of Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to refuse its 2018 planning application. This had sought permission to cater for 43 million passengers per annum (mppa), compared to the current limit of 35mppa. UDC Planning Committee refused this application on 24 January (by 10 votes to nil) but MAG lodged a ‘last minute’ appeal on 24 July, at the very end of the six-month period allowed for an appeal, and so the matter must now go to Public Inquiry.
The Planning Inspectorate has appointed a panel of three Inspectors to conduct the Public Inquiry and, in recent weeks, there have been extensive discussions between the main parties, i.e. UDC, MAG and SSE, about the arrangements for the Inquiry. It has now been decided by the Inspectors that the Inquiry is to start on 12 January 2021 and it is expected to last until the end of March.
I cannot pretend that SSE is happy with these arrangements. You will probably recall that SSE has a current legal action which claims that the application is of major significance and should not have been decided by UDC. This action is now due to be determined by the Court of Appeal. We had initially hoped that the Inquiry could be deferred until these legal proceedings had run their course. However, the current backlog in the Court of Appeal is such that it is uncertain as to when SSE’s case will be considered. The Inspectors were not prepared to accept an indefinite delay.
However, we had at least expected that, for public health reasons, all parties would agree that it would be sensible to postpone the start of the Public Inquiry until April, based on the scientific advice that the level of Covid-19 risk would lessen as winter receded. MAG agreed with SSE on this point but we were dismayed to learn that UDC and the Planning Inspectorate opposed this.
Moreover, it is intended to host the Inquiry at the Radisson Blu hotel, adjacent to the airport terminal building. We consider this to be a high-risk venue because it caters primarily for airport passengers and air crew. In relation to these, and other matters, such as agreeing the main issues to be examined at the Inquiry and the sequencing of evidence, SSE has, to date, been disappointed by the lack of flexibility shown by the Planning Inspectorate as well as the lack of support from UDC.
The Inspectorate’s proposed answer to the Covid-19 risk is to allow much of the Inquiry to be held remotely using video technology. We are not persuaded that this would provide either a level playing field or an effective means to present SSE’s evidence and cross-examine MAG’s witnesses. In addition, we do not believe that virtual hearings would provide the degree of public accessibility and transparency that a controversial Inquiry of this type deserves to have.
Accordingly, you will not be surprised to learn that SSE has given the most careful consideration as to whether or not to continue to participate in this Inquiry. On balance, however, we have decided that we have a duty to our members to do so and that we have a strong case to argue.
With a great deal more experience behind us since the 2007 Inquiry, we believe that SSE is well placed to provide an effective challenge to MAG’s expansion plans. We have therefore now begun the task of preparing our Proofs of Evidence and have instructed experienced counsel, Paul Stinchcombe QC and Richard Wald QC, who have particular expertise in planning matters.
As you know, SSE is almost entirely a voluntary organisation but we do need to pay for legal support and for certain expert external witnesses. I am very aware that we sent out an appeal for funds as recently as July, but may I please refer you to the enclosed leaflet and make a further plea for donations to our Public Inquiry fund to the extent that you are able to do so.
I do, however, need to point out that it is still possible that SSE could withdraw from this Public Inquiry if, for example, we felt that it had become a pointless exercise or that the Covid-19 risk of attending hearings had become unacceptable, bearing in mind that few of the SSE Inquiry team are in the first flush of youth. In such circumstances we would refund any ‘conditional’ contributions. By ticking the relevant box on the enclosed leaflet your contribution will be deemed conditional.
Addendum to Environmental Statement
By 16th October MAG will provide UDC and SSE with an “Addendum”, the purpose of which is to update its February 2018 planning application. UDC will post the MAG Addendum on its website for consultation and SSE will produce guidance on how to respond, which we will send to our email database and publish on our website. We will be encouraging people to respond to this consultation and also to submit requests to speak at the Inquiry. We expect those wishing to speak at the Inquiry to be offered the choice of doing so in person or via a video link.
- SSE Calendar – The 2021 edition of the SSE Community Calendar, the nineteenth to be produced, is now on sale priced at £8.00. The calendar makes an important contribution to our campaign funds and, as always, features superb local photographs, all taken by volunteers. The enclosed leaflet provides more information including a list of stockists and mail order options, as does our website at www.stanstedairportwatch.com.
- Easton Park – Although SSE is not directly involved, we expect that many of our members will be interested in a local initiative aimed at creating a large new country park for Uttlesford. The vision, which would involve planting 10,000 new trees, is to provide a range of community recreational opportunities, including walking, cycling, horse riding and running tracks. For more information, including contact details for this project email email@example.com.