5th June 2018
New controversey as Airport re-writes council planning policy
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has slammed Uttlesford District Council (UDC) for proposing fundamental changes to the Council’s airports policy based on wording provided by the owners of Stansted Airport, the Manchester Airports Group (MAG). The sweeping changes are included in the latest version of the UDC Draft Local Plan, published last week. [Note 1]
As it presently stands, UDC policy only supports the expansion of Stansted Airport up to its current permitted limit of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa) compared to 26mppa today. However, the new policy – if endorsed at a meeting of all UDC councillors later this month – would remove many of the existing local controls over expansion beyond the current permitted limit of 35mppa. Instead, there would be no upper limit on the expansion of Stansted Airport, not even in relation to another runway.
It is no coincidence that the proposed changes have suddenly emerged at a time when MAG is seeking to increase the permitted limit at Stansted Airport from 35mppa to 43mppa. SSE views this as an attempt to shift the goal posts in order to manipulate a favourable outcome to the current airport planning application.
SSE has established that the revised wording of the UDC airports policy, known as Policy SP11, was largely written by MAG in September last year [Note 2] and has resulted in the deletion of the previous requirement for airport development proposals to be “in accordance with the latest permission” as well as the requirement that there should be no significant increase in the number of flights.
SSE believes that the wording of the new policy was probably finalised at a meeting held behind closed doors between MAG and UDC planning officers in late 2017. Using Freedom of Information requests, SSE has established that no fewer than 35 meetings took place between UDC planning officers and MAG representatives in the course of 2016 and 2017, including a specific meeting to discuss changes to the UDC Local Plan held on 11 December 2017. UDC has refused to provide formal minutes for any of these 35 meetings.
This most recent example of worryingly-close liaison between UDC and MAG is the latest in a long line of similar issues where it appears that UDC planning officers have been all too keen to accommodate the owners of Stansted Airport:
- The manipulation of the current planning application to try to leave UDC to determine the outcome and avoid the detailed national scrutiny that would result if the application were ‘called in’ by the Secretary of State. SSE continues to be prepared to take legal action on this issue. [Note 3]
- The ‘Cash for Favours’ agreement between UDC and MAG whereby the Council agreed to ‘fast track’ the current airport planning application in return for staged payments from MAG.
- The discovery – buried in an appendix deep within the 2,930-page planning application – that MAG wants to remove the present restriction which prevents it lobbying Government for more night flights at Stansted. Until SSE’s disclosure of this issue, neither UDC nor MAG had made any mention of this hidden proposal aimed ultimately at increasing night flights.
- UDC’s clear bias in requiring those submitting objections to the planning application to provide their address whereas those supporting the planning application need not provide their address.
SSE Deputy Chairman Brian Ross commented: “This is yet another attempt by Manchester Airports Group to manipulate the planning system to achieve its own objectives. The most worrying aspect is that UDC planning officers seem to be bending over backwards to accommodate MAG, regardless of the impact on the local community whose interests they are supposed to serve.”
Brian Ross concluded: “The growing catalogue of concerns about UDC’s handling of this airport planning application and the lack of transparency in the council’s dealings with MAG make it all the more important for this application to be taken out of UDC’s hands and dealt with by the Secretary of State.”
Note 1: The proposed changes to UDC airports policy can be seen in the latest version of the Draft Local Plan (known as the Regulation 19 Pre-Submission Local Plan), under Policy SP11, pages 48-50.
Note 2: The new wording proposed by MAG can be found in a submission to UDC dated 4 September 2017 from Alistair Andrew of MAG, commenting on Policy SP11 here.
Note 3: SSE wrote to the relevant Secretary of State (Housing Communities and Local Government) on 19 March formally asking him to ‘call in’ the current airport planning application and deal with it nationally rather than allow UDC to determine it locally. The Secretary of State replied on 20 April asking for more time “to continue to give consideration to the matters raised”, referring to “the various, complex issues raised” and to the need “to coordinate our response with colleagues in the Department for Transport”. SSE is currently chasing for a clear and substantive response and will pursue legal options if this is not forthcoming in the near future. See Press Release 19 March 2018
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