20th July 2018

Starting gun fired on airport High Court action

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has served legal papers requiring the Government to take control of deciding the latest Stansted Airport expansion proposals, or face proceedings in the High Court.

The move puts the Secretary of State for Transport on formal notice of a Judicial Review application if he fails to designate the airport’s planning application as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) within 14 days. Such a designation would mean the application would be considered nationally rather than by the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council (UDC).

The application for expansion at Stansted was submitted by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) on behalf of the airport last February. If approved it would mean a 44 per cent increase in flights and a 66 per cent increase in passengers compared to 2017 levels. From the outset, SSE fiercely opposed the attempt to rush through the application and has argued that the scale of the application meant that it had to be determined nationally rather than by the local Council.

National determination of a planning application is a lengthier and far more thorough process than local determination, involving detailed scrutiny by an expert team. By contrast, despite having no expertise in the field of major airport infrastructure projects, UDC had reached an agreement with MAG to ‘fast track’ its planning application in return for staged payments. SSE branded this a ‘cash for favours’ agreement.

For almost four months SSE has been corresponding on this matter with both the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (‘HCLG’), currently James Brokenshire. Neither Minister is at this stage prepared to ‘call in’ the airport planning application for national determination, although James Brokenshire who has overall responsibility for the planning process has indicated that he will consider this when the process is further advanced.

Meanwhile the attempt by MAG and UDC to rush through the planning application and have it decided by July 18th has come unstuck. Under pressure from Essex and Herts County Councils as well as from SSE, UDC now recognises that it needs a great deal more information from MAG before its planning application can even be sensibly considered. No new target date has yet been set for determining the application but it is unlikely to be before October.

SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented “Despite the current delay on the part of the local Council, we cannot afford to wait any longer to ask for a legal ruling as to whether this planning application should be dealt with nationally rather than locally. That is why SSE has now served formal notice of an application to the High Court for Judicial Review proceedings.”

At this stage SSE’s action is targeted solely at the Secretary of State for Transport but SSE has reserved its position with regard to any potential future action against the Secretary of State for HCLG and against UDC. All these parties have been served with copies of SSE’s legal documents, as has Stansted Airport Limited.

While SSE will ask the High Court for an expedited hearing, this may still not take place until next year. Accordingly, SSE has made representations to the interested parties seeking their agreement that it would be inappropriate for the current airport planning application to be decided until the outcome of the Judicial Review is known, pointing out that there is no urgent need to determine this planning application because Stansted Airport is still nowhere near its present cap of 35 million passengers per annum (mppa).



  • Stansted Airport handled 25.9mppa in 2017. It presently has permission for 35mppa and its planning application asks for this to be raised to 43mppa.
  • SSE is represented by leading planning barristers Paul Stinchcombe QC and Richard Walk, both of 39 Essex Chambers, Chancery Lane, and by solicitors Deighton Pierce Glynn.


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