26th March 2019

Further legal challenge against Stansted Airport planning approval

Stop Stansted Expansion (‘SSE’) confirmed today [26 March] that it will commence legal proceedings to challenge last week’s decision [20 March] by the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire not to intervene in the decision by Uttlesford District Council (‘UDC’) to approve the expansion of Stansted Airport to 43 million passengers per annum (‘mppa’).

The Communities Secretary explained that his reason for not intervening was that “the application does not involve issues of more than local importance”. SSE considers this conclusion to be completely at odds with the facts.

The truth is that over half of Stansted’s passengers are either London residents or London visitors and its official designation, ‘London Stansted Airport’, is intended to emphasise its position as London’s third airport after Heathrow and Gatwick. In addition, within the next month or two, Stansted is expected to overtake Manchester to become the UK’s third busiest airport. Meanwhile, Stansted has fewer local employees than 15 years ago despite the airport’s growth. Nowadays, over 84% of its employees are not Uttlesford residents.

The noise, air pollution, community health and road traffic impacts of Stansted are felt far beyond the borders of Uttlesford, and the 3.7 million equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide attributable to Stansted Airport this year will have significant adverse impacts not only at a national level but also internationally [Note 1].

In short, SSE believes that the Communities Secretary is both factually wrong and wrong in law to say that the further expansion of Stansted to become almost as big as today’s Gatwick does not involve issues of more than local importance, and so does not justify his intervention.

Paradoxically, the Chairman of UDC Planning Committee [Note 2] gave Brexit as his reason for using his additional casting vote to ensure that the application was approved (after his Committee was split down the middle) saying that there was a need to consider the wider picture, beyond the impacts on Uttlesford.

SSE’s legal proceedings will take the form of an application to the High Court for a Judicial Review (‘JR’) of the decision of the Communities Secretary not to call in the Stansted Airport planning application. SSE already has an outstanding JR application against the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, over his decision of 28 June 2018 to allow the airport planning application to be determined locally by UDC [Note 3]. This case was originally scheduled for a two-day High Court hearing in February but has been ‘stayed’ by the Judge to await the decision of the Communities Secretary, referred to above.

SSE is due to provide the Judge with an update on 29 March and has previously notified the High Court that it would seek to widen its challenge to include both Secretaries of State in the event of James Brokenshire taking the same line as Chris Grayling in refusing to consider the airport planning application at national level. SSE’s barristers will confirm this position to the Judge on 29 March and seek directions regarding the timetable and other arrangements for a rescheduled hearing against the two Secretaries of State.

In the meantime, SSE solicitors have written to UDC pointing out that it would be inappropriate for UDC to issue any decision in relation to the airport planning application whilst these legal challenges are pending. It is hoped that UDC will agree to this and thereby avoid the risk of becoming embroiled in the legal proceedings.

SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented: “As we’ve said in the past, High Court proceedings are not cheap and so we do not take such actions lightly but only after careful thought and professional advice. SSE’s primary objective is to seek to safeguard the community and environment from unfettered and unsustainable airport expansion. Regrettably, legal proceedings are sometimes an unavoidable part of trying to achieve this objective.”


  1. See Stansted CO2 Emissions 2019
  2. Councillor Alan Mills – Conservative member for Felsted and Stebbing, 14 November 2018.
  3. See SSE press release of 9 August 2018 at Confirmation-of-high-court-action


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