12th March 2018
Airport cash for Council favours
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has condemned a “cash for favours” secret agreement between the owners of Stansted Airport and Uttlesford District Council (UDC).
The deal between Stansted’s owners Manchester Airports Group (MAG) and UDC calls into question the impartiality of the council which is currently handling an airport planning application seeking significant expansion of passenger numbers. While it’s not unheard of for a developer to contribute to the costs of handling a planning application, this particular agreement has strings attached. The money is conditional upon UDC meeting target dates to speed up the progress of MAG’s planning application.
The planning application was submitted on 22 February and seeks permission for an airport throughput of 43 million passengers per annum (mppa). By comparison, Stansted handled 25.9 mppa last year. If the application is approved, it would mean a 66% increase in passengers and a 44% increase in flights, compared to last year.
SSE Deputy Chairman Brian Ross commented “We’ve been concerned for some time about this planning application being rushed through and we’re now beginning to understand why this may be happening. In the interests of public trust and transparency UDC should immediately publish its agreement with MAG and disclose the level of financial contribution involved.”
MAG and UDC have agreed a final deadline of 18 July for determining what by any standards is a highly complex planning application, covering 2,930 pages. This is just one month more than the legal minimum whereas the normal practice for large complex applications is to allow a far longer period. For example, the last comparable airport planning application – by BAA in 2006 for an additional 10mppa – allowed more than seven months for a decision to be made. This enabled detailed consideration of the impacts and extensive public consultation.
For a range of reasons – including the need to ensure that the planning application is considered purely on its own merits and is subject to the most thorough scrutiny – SSE wishes to see this planning application determined nationally by the Secretary of State rather than locally by UDC.
SSE’s concerns about UDC dealing with this planning application have been further heightened by information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing that UDC planning officers held no fewer than 36 meetings with MAG during 2016 and 2017. UDC has told SSE that no formal minutes exist for 28 of the 36 meetings and has so far refused to provide the minutes for the remaining eight meetings on the grounds of confidentiality.
Brian Ross concluded: “It cannot be right for Stansted Airport to be able to buy a ‘fast-track’ pass from Uttlesford Council. This planning application needs the most thorough consideration and that will simply not be possible if Uttlesford Council continues to try to rush it through. The Secretary of State should intervene and take the matter out of Uttlesford’s hands.”
Members of the public can comment on this airport planning application by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org quoting the application reference number UTT/18/0460/FUL and providing their name and address.