10th June 2019
SSE tells council Chief Executive to end the secrecy and intrique
The Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion (‘SSE’), Peter Sanders, has written to the Chief Executive of Uttlesford District Council (UDC), Ms Dawn French, urging her to bring an end to the veil of secrecy which has surrounded UDC’s handling of the 2018 Stansted Airport planning application over the past two months.
The application sought approval for an increase in the permitted throughput from 35 million to 43 million passengers per annum (mppa). Despite the fact that this is almost as much as today’s Gatwick, the application was granted conditional approval by the UDC Planning Committee on 14 November 2018. However, it has now been clearly demonstrated that the conditions laid down by the Planning Committee have not been met.
In addition, before granting final approval the Planning Committee has a legal duty to consider any new material factors and changes in circumstances that have arisen in the seven months that have passed since November last year when the application was conditionally approved. SSE has now provided UDC with six clear examples of new material factors and changes in circumstances since November 2018.
UDC officers continue to refuse to discuss any of the above matters with SSE. Instead, they have recently held three meetings with councillors, behind closed doors, for which no minutes or other formal records are publicly available. In fact, it is not even recorded on the UDC website that such meetings ever took place. It is understood that the purpose of these meetings was to consider the legal advice obtained by the Council in relation to the airport planning application. Councillors have been warned by the senior legal officer at UDC, in the severest terms, about the need to maintain total secrecy as to any legal advice UDC has received regarding its handling of the airport planning application.
At least two of the recent Council meetings held behind closed doors were said to be in preparation for an Extraordinary Council Meeting (ECM) due to be held, in public, on Monday 3 June to consider an earlier instruction from councillors to Ms French and her officers [see Note 1], not to issue final approval for the airport planning application until councillors had received independent legal corroboration and were satisfied that final approval could be issued. A number of members of the public had been given permission to speak at the ECM on Monday 3 June.
However, on Friday 31 May, UDC advised those members of the public who were due to speak at the ECM that the meeting had been postponed at short notice and would not now take place until Friday 28 June. The reason given was that further legal advice was not expected to be available until 31 May and, according to Ms French, this allowed too little time for councillors “to reflect upon and the need for further clarification of the legal advice in order to form a clearer proposition of the way forward”.
It is understood that it was not until Friday 7 June that councillors received the further legal advice that was promised by 31 May and another ‘behind closed doors’ meeting has now been arranged for Wednesday 12 June to which only selected councillors have been invited. SSE has been told that the intention of this meeting is to seek to annul the instruction to Ms French not to issue final approval for the airport planning application until councillors had received independent legal corroboration and were satisfied that final approval could be issued.
It is difficult to avoid drawing the conclusion that officers are intent on avoiding any further public discussion of the outstanding issues in relation to the airport planning application. Having postponed the ECM until 28 June, it would appear that officers now wish to avoid this altogether. Moreover, officers continue to resist requests to refer the airport planning application back to the UDC Planning Committee for reconsideration despite the clear legal justification for doing so. SSE has provided overwhelming evidence of the legal justification in the latest letter from Peter Sanders to the Council’s Chief Executive.
The impression given is that officers are intent on issuing final approval for the airport planning application regardless of the outstanding concerns. Following the local elections on 2 May there was a dramatic change in the political make-up of the Council but this seems to have made no difference whatsoever to the longstanding determination of officers to provide Manchester Airports Group, as quickly as possible, with final approval for Stansted Airport to grow to 43mppa.
Peter Sanders, in writing to the Uttlesford Chief Executive [Note 2], said: “Once again, instead of resisting proposals from elected UDC members and others for [the airport planning application] to be referred back to the Planning Committee for further consideration, I urge you to make a clear recommendation for that referral to be made forthwith.”
Mr Sanders ended his letter with a plea for greater openness and dialogue: “Finally, I would like to make a renewed plea to you to re-establish a sensible dialogue with SSE. In the seventeen years since SSE was established we have never previously experienced a situation where UDC officers refused even to meet SSE. The absence of an open dialogue is to the advantage of neither UDC nor SSE and I would reaffirm our willingness to discuss the above matters and other airport-related issues with you and/or your officers at any time.”
- The instruction arises from a requisition under the Council’s rules of procedure for an Extraordinary Council Meeting (ECM) dated 25th April 2019 and duly validated, which states as follows:“To instruct the Chief Executive and fellow officers not to issue the Planning Decision Notice for planning application UTT/18/0460/FUL until members have had an opportunity to review and obtain independent legal corroboration that the legal advice provided to officers, including the QC opinion referred to by the Leader of the Council on 9th April 2019, confirms that the proposed Section 106 Agreement with Stansted Airport Limited fully complies with the Resolution approved by the Planning Committee on 14 November 2018 such that officers re lawfully empowered to conclude and seal the Agreement without further reference to the Planning Committee.”
- A copy of Mr Sanders’ letter of 10 June 2019 to UDC CEO is available on request from SSE office.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND COMMENT