1st November 2008

Government plans to steamroller Stansted Inquiry

Plans to steamroller through the Public Inquiry into BAA’s application for a second Stansted runway in just six months have been condemned by Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE).

The news that the Inspector appointed by the Government is looking to conduct the Inquiry at a breakneck pace is revealed in a note from the Planning Inspectorate issued ahead of the Pre Inquiry Meeting scheduled for Monday 10 November, when the Inquiry programme and procedures will be discussed at a public session.

The intention is to run parallel sessions examining different subjects in different Inquiry rooms at the same time. This ‘twin track’ approach would severely compromise the community’s ability to participate fully in the Inquiry because it would stretch resources beyond the limit. It would be impossible to conduct a fair and proper examination of BAA’s plans by effectively excluding community representation by SSE and parish councils who are planning to play a leading role.

Moreover, the sheer scale and complexity of the forthcoming Public Inquiry has been grossly underestimated. It is the UK’s biggest ever airport planning application. If approved, it would make Stansted bigger than today’s Heathrow and in fact bigger than any other airport in Europe today. The intention to rush this through the Inquiry process in the space of six months is quite simply outrageous.

The proposal for a ‘quick and dirty’ Inquiry confirms months of rumour that once again Ministerial pressure is being applied to influence what is supposed to be an independent process. At last year’s Inquiry into expansion plans for the existing runway the Inspector made several mentions in public session of the pressure he was under from Ministers to complete the Inquiry and produce his recommendations very rapidly.

The Inspector for the second runway Inquiry appears to be coming under similar pressure. This suggests that the Government wants to be in a position to approve a second runway at Stansted while still assured of being in Office, noting that a General Election must be held no later than 3 June 2010. The opposition of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties to the second runway plans has been widely publicised and the present Government is clearly trying to help BAA get approval for a second runway at Stansted before the electorate have an opportunity to kill the project stone dead.

Commenting, SSE Campaign Director Carol Barbone said: “The way in which the Inspector is proposing to run the Inquiry is an affront to the very principles of fairness and justice. Twin tracking is completely unacceptable for an Inquiry where there are so many complex inter-relationships between one topic and another. Both BAA and the Government know full well that this approach will make it impossible for SSE and others to keep abreast of all the evidence and to cross-examine BAA on all its evidence. On the other hand, BAA, with its team of five senior barristers, could take this in its stride.”

“We shall not shirk from going to the Courts, if necessary, to defend the right of this local community to have a proper opportunity to scrutinise and challenge BAA’s plans within a realistic programme that allows for full and fair public participation. We would need to consider whether it was best to do this either before the Inquiry started or at the end of the Inquiry process,” she added. “The right to public participation in the decision-making process and to access to justice in environmental matters is a fundamental principle now enshrined in European Law.”

1. The Pre Inquiry Meeting is scheduled to take place at 10.30am on Monday 10 November at the Stansted Hilton, by the Stansted Business Park at Stansted Airport. The meeting is open to the public and at least 250 members of the public are expected to attend.
2. Last year’s Inquiry, to consider BAA’s request for permission to handle an extra 10 million passengers a year on the existing Stansted runway, ran from 30 May 2007 until 19 October 2007. The second runway project is four to five times the scale of G1 and BAA took more than four years to prepare its planning submission which runs to countless volumes.
3. BAA’s application for a second Stansted runway is the UK’s biggest ever airport planning application. If approved, it would make Stansted bigger than today’s Heathrow on every yardstick – 495,000 flights vs 480,000; 68 million passengers vs 67 million and over 16 kms2 site area vs 12 kms2. Stansted would in fact be bigger than any other airport in Europe today.

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