18th February 2005
Stansted expansion plans thrown into confusion
Historic High Court Decision
In an historic decision announced by the High Court today (18 February 2005) the Government’s proposal, as set out in its Air Transport White Paper, for a new runway at Stansted Airport has been declared unlawful as a consequence of the Government’s failure to conduct a proper consultation on alternative options.
This is the first time ever that the High Court has allowed a Judicial Review challenge to a Government White Paper and although today’s judgement by Mr Justice Sullivan stops short of overturning the Government’s controversial airports policy, it has delivered a major setback to BAA’s ambition to build a second runway at Stansted by 2011/12.
It is uncertain what will happen next but it is clear is that alternative options for a second runway at Stansted – all of which are on a smaller scale than the option proposed in the White Paper and were rejected by the Government three years ago – must now be put back into play.
Peter Sanders, Chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) described the decision as “a vindication of what we have said all along about the White Paper being fundamentally flawed and an important milestone in our battle to prevent BAA from ever building a second runway at Stansted.”
“However,” continued Mr Sanders, “the High Court decision has the perverse effect of creating even more uncertainty for the local community in the foreseeable future. Fairness demands that the Government should now completely withdraw its support for major expansion at Stansted and that BAA should also do the decent thing and publicly announce that it will not be proceeding with its plans for a second runway. We will be exploring every avenue for taking today’s judgement even further, including examining the scope for appeal against certain aspects of the Court decision which still leave the threat of a second runway, in some shape or form, hanging over us.”
Today’s 109 page High Court judgement throws up a host of anomalies, for example:
Not even a preliminary environmental assessment has been carried out on the other four options which have now been put back into play. This may be in breach of EU environmental legislation.
Mr Justice Sullivan did not uphold the challenge on commercial viability because, in his view, the Government dealt with this in respect of the option put forward in the White Paper [but see Notes 1 and 2 below].
However, none of the other four options which have now been put back into play has been assessed for commercial viability.
BAA is currently operating a home purchase scheme for about 100 householders whose homes would be bulldozed if a second runway were to be built 2.5 kilometres to the east of the existing runway, as proposed in the White Paper, and another (lesser) compensation scheme to assist the owners of about 500 very severely blighted properties in the immediate vicinity of the runway that was originally proposed. However, with four other runway options now back in play, including options to the north west and to the south west of the existing runway, there is now a real risk that blight and uncertainty will affect a far wider area.
“It’s complete muddle and confusion,” said Peter Sanders “and all because the Government and BAA believed they could railroad through these half-baked proposals without proper regard for the legal procedure and without proper regard for the local community. Once again they have learned that the communities around Bishop’s Stortford, Dunmow, Saffron Walden, Stansted and Thaxted have had enough; we are not the soft touch that they expected.”
“BAA and the Government now face the problem of what to do next,” said SSE Campaign Director, Carol Barbone. “We very much hope they will do the decent thing and abandon all plans for a second runway at Stansted but if they stubbornly choose to continue, they must know that we too will continue to thwart these outrageous expansion plans at every turn. They must realise also that they have a new and urgent priority which is to address the wider problem of generalised blight which now threatens to engulf this area as a result of the Government’s incompetence and BAA jumping the gun.”
Brian Ross, SSE Economics Adviser commented: “All the architects, planners and design engineers appointed by BAA last year, can now put down their pencils and go off on a very, very long holiday. This will no doubt be a considerable relief to BAA shareholders as well as to a great many others.”
1) The judgement includes some scathing criticism of the Government for its lack of candour during the proceedings, including a warning from Mr Justice Sullivan that the Government “should remember that the obligation to tell the truth does not mean that the Court need only be told so much of the truth as suits the Department’s case, and that inconvenient parts of the truth may be omitted from their evidence.” The Judge’s criticism referred in particular to the fact that the Government withheld evidence of very serious Treasury concerns over the commercial viability of a second Stansted runway and the fact that “to put it mildly” the CAA was “not encouraged, to say the least” about the prospects of a second Stansted runway being viable.
2) SSE will be considering the scope for appeal on the commercial viability issue as a means of building on the success achieved in other aspects of the Court judgement and based on SSE’s public commitment to leave no stone unturned in opposing BAA’s plans for a second Stansted runway.
3) The Judicial Review challenge of the White Paper was mounted by SSE alongside community groups from Luton (LADACAN) and Heathrow (HACAN) and the London Boroughs of Hillingdon and Wandsworth. It was mounted in parallel with a challenge mounted by a consortium of five Hertfordshire and Essex local authorities.
4) SSE was represented by Cambridge solicitor Richard Buxton and by Barristers David Smith and Dan Kolinsky of Landmark Chambers, Breams Buildings, Chancery Lane. Mr Buxton described the case as “the mother of all challenges,” adding that “To have knocked back Government policy on two out of three runway proposals is vindication for people who have every right to expect their Government to be straight with them. “In fact, I think the implications of the Stansted and Luton decisions today will mean the need to look again at the whole question of runway provision in the South East in the round.”