8th October 2021

Press Statement – Uttlesford Calls Time on Airport Planning Appeal

At a special meeting of Uttlesford District Council (‘UDC’) on 6 October 2021, councillors decided not to proceed any further with its intended High Court appeal against the approval of the Stansted Airport planning application for a throughput of 43 million passengers per annum (‘mppa’).

Stansted Airport Watch (‘SAW’) – formerly SSE – has relentlessly fought this planning application since the initial proposals were submitted by Manchester Airports Group (‘MAG’) in June 2017, and we had intended to support UDC in the High Court.  That option no longer exists and we are, of course, bitterly disappointed that it has come to this.  There is no further avenue for appeal.

However, having regard to all the circumstances, we believe that UDC had very little choice but to call a halt to its legal challenge. On Friday 1 October, a senior High Court Judge, after reviewing UDC’s case, refused permission for a full court hearing on the grounds that UDC did not have a sufficient legal basis to challenge the result of the Public Inquiry earlier this year.

Although UDC had the right to appeal this ruling, our own legal advice was that any such appeal was unlikely to succeed.  We also have to be mindful of the potential cost to local residents.

In reality, the damage was done earlier this year at the Public Inquiry when UDC – inexplicably – did not attempt to defend its own Planning Committee’s unanimous refusal of the airport planning application.  Instead, UDC proposed a compromise: to approve the proposed expansion subject to certain conditions. That strategy caught us completely by surprise, pulled the rug from under our feet, and caused total confusion.  Neither the Inspectors, nor MAG, nor ourselves had a clear understanding of UDC’s position. UDC’s strategy backfired spectacularly and resulted in an order for the Council to pay all of MAG’s costs which will undoubtedly be substantial.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this whole saga is that it needn’t have been this way.

A fundamental mistake was made by UDC in June 2017 when the proposals first surfaced. SSE, as we were at that time, immediately called for the application to be dealt with by Government as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (‘NSIP’) but Uttlesford officers and the (then) Leader of the Council insisted that UDC was fully capable of dealing with the application.  It seemed to be a question of pride – perhaps not fully appreciating the political and financial risks.

SSE repeatedly tried to persuade UDC to pass responsibility to the Government but without success.  SSE also repeatedly asked the Government to treat the application as an NSIP but UDC would not support this.  As a last resort, SSE then began legal proceedings in the High Court in an attempt to have the planning application defined as an NSIP so that it would be dealt with by the Government rather than UDC. However, UDC continued to insist that it was capable of dealing with the application locally and it would not support SSE’s legal case, which was ultimately lost.

All of the above is a matter of record [see below].  There now needs to be an independent inquiry to establish who should bear the responsibility and to learn lessons.



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