26th November 2018
Planning Chairman didn’t even know what he was voting for!
Following the decision of the Chairman of Uttlesford Planning Committee, Councillor Alan Mills, to use his (additional) casting vote in favour of the airport planning application, Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) health adviser, Professor Jangu Banatvala, wrote to him to ask whether he had reviewed the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) Noise Guidelines, published on 10th October, prior to voting.
The new WHO guidelines are of enormous significance because they show that aviation noise can be harmful to community health at far lower decibel levels than previously recommended. These tough new WHO guideline levels reflect the strength of the latest evidence relating to environmental harms of aviation noise annoyance and sleep disturbance.
The disturbing reply from Councillor Mills, shown in full below [Note 1], suggests that he believed the planning application was for 174,000 flights, rather than 274,000. This fundamental mistake could be just a careless typographical error, except for the fact that his reply contained two other startling admissions:
• He claimed to have read 4,500 pages of the planning application documents (about a third of the total) and yet he believed that it meant no extra flights. However, even a cursory look at the planning documents shows that, with an annual cap of 35 million passengers, Stansted would be limited to 248,820 flights, but raising the cap to 43 million passengers results in 274,000 flights. Approving the application therefore means an extra 25,180 flights a year – about 70 extra flights per day.
• Councillor Mills said he was unaware of the new WHO Noise Guidelines but Professor Banatvala had – in person – presented the latest Noise Guidelines to Councillor Mills and his colleagues on the Planning Committee just a week earlier. The new guidelines were also highlighted in SSE’s evidence to UDC, whose planning officers knew very well just how important they were. Officers had written to MAG (Manchester Airports Group) on 22nd December 2017 making clear that the effect of the new WHO Noise Guidelines would need to be assessed before the planning application could be decided:
“In the event that the World Health Organisation (“WHO”)’s new evidence on the impacts of aviation noise is published before a determination to grant planning permission, the environmental statement assessment must incorporate this evidence (for example, by way of supplementary assessment).” [emphasis added]
Despite the words “must incorporate” the Council’s officers and the Planning Committee completely disregarded the new WHO Noise Guidelines.
At the special Planning Committee meeting on 14 November to consider the airport planning application five councillors voted against and five voted in favour, including the Chairman. [Note 2]. The Chairman’s casting vote (i.e. he was allowed two votes) carried the day. Of the four other councillors who voted in favour:
• One did not ask a single question all day;
• Another who voted in favour asked just one question, which was to request a ‘comfort break’;
• The remaining two councillors who voted in favour each just asked the simplest of questions about noise impacts, the answers to which would have been obvious even by skim reading the officers’ summary report. It was clear that they had either not read, or had not understood, even the most basic information about the nature and effect of the planning application.
SSE Deputy Chairman Brian Ross commented “For almost 18 months SSE has consistently argued that this airport application had to be dealt with nationally because of its scale and complexity. It was completely unfair to place the responsibility on local councillors and has now left some of them exposed to ridicule.”
Brian Ross continued: “It took a five-month Public Inquiry to consider the evidence in the case of the last comparable Stansted Airport planning application. On this occasion Uttlesford Planning Committee did the entire job in one sitting. That might appear to reflect a remarkable improvement in efficiency. In truth, it reflects the naïve and superficial nature of the Uttlesford approval process.”
The audio recording of the Planning Committee meeting on 14 November has now been converted by SSE into a written transcript which will be sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government as supporting evidence of the superficial and uninformed nature of the Uttlesford Planning Committee process and of apparent pre-determination.
SSE has already sent a holding submission to the Secretary of State highlighting deficiencies in the UDC process and asking for the planning application to be ‘called in’ – i.e. taken out of UDC’s hands and dealt with at national level. SSE’s barristers are now working on the detailed legal submissions to the Secretary of State underpinning the reasons why he must now ‘call in’ the application for national determination.
NOTE 1 – E-mail from Councillor Mills to Professor Banatvala dated 21 November 2018:
“Dear Mr Banatvala
Thank you for your correspondence on this matter and for matters of clarity I feel that an important issue should be clarified that has been continually misrepresented in this debate.
MAG had an existing permission for 174,000 flights from 2008. This application was not about increased flights, only passenger numbers/throughput in the airport.
Having read over 4500 pages of documentation I have to confess the October updated WHO report did not feature in the officers’ reports and I will endeavour to ensure that I am as current as possible on trends and policy.
Cllr Alan Mills”
NOTE 2 – The votes cast by individual members of Uttlesford Planning Committee on 14 November to approve the Stansted Airport planning application were as follows:
Paul Fairhurst – Residents for Uttlesford, Saffron Walden Shire.
Richard Freeman – Residents for Uttlesford, Saffron Walden Castle.
Anthony Gerard – Residents for Uttlesford, Newport.
Mark Lemon – Conservative (formerly Independent), Hatfield Heath.
Janice Loughlin – Liberal Democrat, Stort Valley
Councillors in favour
Robert Chambers – Conservative, Littlebury, Chesterford and Wendon Lofts.
Eric Hicks – Conservative, Great Dunmow South and Barnston.
Alan Mills (Chairman) – Conservative, Felsted and Stebbing.
Howard Ryles – Conservative, Takeley
Lesley Wells – Conservative, Broad Oak and the Hallingburys.
NOTE 3 – The new WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines, published on 10 October 2018, can be found here.