2nd October 2018
Uttlesford competence again called into question
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has written to the Secretary of State again urging him to call in the current Stansted Airport planning application following another embarrassing blunder by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) officials.
The planning application, which was submitted by MAG in February, seeks permission for a 66% increase in Stansted passengers and a 44% increase in flights compared to last year. The application also contains a proposal by MAG to remove a longstanding condition which prevents it from lobbying Government for more night flights.
UDC had originally intended to determine the application by 18 July in line with a controversial ‘cash for favours’ agreement whereby MAG agreed to pay £118,000 in return for its planning application being fast-tracked by UDC. SSE has been critical of UDC’s rushed approach to this airport planning application from the outset.
UDC was forced to abandon the July deadline when it became clear that the application was far more complex than was first believed, and the implications far more significant and wide ranging. MAG then supplied a further 900 pages of documents and UDC set a new date of 17 October to determine the application, with public speaking sessions to be allowed the previous week.
This second timetable has now also had to be abandoned following the intervention of Highways England who are still not satisfied that the road traffic implications of the proposal have been properly considered. Highways England, which is an agency of the Department for Transport, have issued a Directive instructing UDC to take no decision until at least 9 November.
In addition to the issues identified by Highways England, SSE provided UDC with a further 30 pages of detailed evidence on 18 September highlighting numerous misrepresentations and errors in the MAG planning application. This appears to have been completely ignored because by that time UDC officers were apparently already ‘minded’ to approve the application.
SSE understands that UDC officers had intended to make a formal announcement on Monday 1 October recommending approval of the application. The intervention by Highways England is a major embarrassment for UDC and it obviously scuppers UDC’s timetable for a second time. It may be that UDC will decide to proceed with the public speaking sessions next week. At this stage there is no clear advice from the Council which just adds to the present muddle.
SSE Chairman Peter Sanders commented “UDC has been intent on rushing through approval of this application from the very beginning and here we have yet another example of its officers intending to jump the gun with a recommendation to approve the application before the process of considering its implications has been completed.”
Peter Sanders continued: “To anyone who has followed UDC’s handling of this airport planning application from the outset, it will come as no surprise that officers would be recommending approval. It is, however, astonishing that they were preparing to do so even when important issues were – and still are – unresolved.”
“It must surely now be clear to everyone”, concluded Mr Sanders, “that Uttlesford District Council is over-stretched and under-resourced to deal with a planning application of this scale and complexity. It should be taken out of UDC’s hands and dealt with by the Secretary of State.”
- 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 continues to pursue a High Court challenge aimed at transferring the responsibility for determining this planning application from UDC to the Secretary of State. SSE’s application for Judicial Review was lodged with the High Court on 8 August. If UDC were to approve the MAG planning application before the outcome of these legal proceedings is known, that approval would be overturned if SSE’s action is ultimately successful.
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