22nd February 2018

Airport planning application is manipulative and misleading

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has described the latest Stansted Airport expansion proposals as an attempt to manipulate the planning process so as to avoid Government scrutiny and instead do a “sweetheart” deal with the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council (UDC). SSE has also branded the airport planning application as misleading in claiming that further expansion of the airport would give rise to no significant adverse environmental impacts.

The planning application seeks permission for an annual throughput of 43 million passengers and 274,000 flights, which compares to 25.9 million passengers and 189,900 flights last year.

SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented: “It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to work out that a 44% increase in the number of flights and a 66% increase in the number of passengers means a lot more noise, a lot more pollution and a lot more traffic on our already congested local roads. By suggesting otherwise, Stansted Airport and its owners Manchester Airport Group (MAG) are treating the local community as if we were all complete fools.”

Stansted Airport is currently subject to a cap of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) and MAG initially indicated (in June 2017) that it would seek permission for the cap to be raised to “approximately 44.5 mppa” which it predicted would be achieved in 2029. SSE immediately pointed out that a cap of “approximately 44.5mppa” could easily mean 45mppa, i.e. 10mppa more than the present cap, and would therefore automatically be for the Secretary of State to determine the application, rather than Uttlesford Council. [Note 1]

Seemingly in response to SSE’s stated position, MAG suddenly announced last October that it would trim its planning application from 44.5mppa to 43mppa. However, it soon became clear that this was not a genuine reduction. All that MAG did was to provide a forecast only until 2028, rather than 2029. Thus, as if by magic, the application was presented as seeking permission for 43mppa rather than 44.5mppa. It might reasonably also be asked: what happens in 2030?SSE is profoundly concerned at the lengths MAG is prepared to go to avoid national scrutiny of its planning application by the Secretary of State and instead have it decided by UDC. SSE’s concerns have been heightened by information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing that UDC planning officers held no fewer than 36 informal meetings with Stansted Airport and MAG management during 2016 and 2017. Even more worryingly, it seems that no formal minutes are available for any of these meetings. By contrast, SSE’s requests for a meeting with UDC planning officers to discuss the planning application, and SSE’s initial 25-page submission, have been repeatedly refused.

SSE understands that, in return for local planning approval, MAG would be prepared to make financial contributions to UDC to help fund local road schemes and other local projects, which would help UDC with the delivery of the major housing developments in its Draft Local Plan.

Peter Sanders concluded: “We need to have confidence that this planning application will be considered purely on its own merits and subject to fair and thorough scrutiny. That is why it should be determined nationally by the Secretary of State, not locally by Uttlesford District Council. We will be working with our legal advisers precisely to achieve that objective.”



  1. The Secretary of State can assume the responsibility for determining any planning application and, under the Planning Act 2008, any airport planning application for an additional 10mppa or more passengers is automatically deemed to be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) and must be dealt with by the Secretary of State.
  2. More information about Stansted Airport’s planning application to Uttlesford District Council can be found here.


Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits