Many assumed that when its plans for a second Stansted runway were abandoned by BAA in 2010, and after the Airports Commission ruled out the option of a second runway at Stansted in 2013, the local community could finally relax. However, in June 2017, Stansted’s new owners, the Manchester Airports Group (‘MAG’), served notice of its intention to seek approval for major expansion based on the existing runway. If approved it would allow the airport to grow by 15 million passengers a year (‘mppa’) (a 54% increase compared to the 28 million passengers in 2019) and an additional 75,000 flights a year (a 38% increase compared to the 199,000 flights in 2019).
In February 2018, MAG submitted its planning application for approval to handle 43mppa to Uttlesford District Council (‘UDC’). In a controversial split decision in November 2018, with the UDC Planning Committee divided equally (five for and five against) the Chairman’s casting vote resulted in the MAG’s planning application being provisionally approved.
However, at the May 2019 council elections there was a radical change of control at UDC with the old regime being swept away by the local resident’s party, R4U. This paved the way for a fresh look at the 43 mppa planning application and, in January 2020, UDC Planning Committee reversed its decision and decisively refused MAG’s planning application (by ten votes to nil).
Legally, MAG had six months to decide whether to lodge an appeal against UDC’s refusal. True to form, MAG prolonged the uncertainty for as long as possible before announcing, on 10 July 2020, that it would be lodging an appeal and asking the Secretary of State to set up a Public Inquiry to enable its planning application to be reconsidered.
In October 2020 the Inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State announced that a Public Inquiry to consider the MAG planning application for 43mppa would start on 12 January 2021, despite pleas from SSE that it would be reckless to start the Inquiry in the midst of winter and in the midst of a pandemic.
The Inquiry lasted for 30 sitting days, closing on 12 March. All the hearings were by video link. SSE presented evidence on eleven topics whereas UDC presented evidence on just four topics. Moreover, UDC declared at the start of the Inquiry that MAG’s planning application should be granted subject to a few conditions. This meant that SSE had to battle not only against MAG but also UDC.
Unsurprisingly, the Panel of three Inspectors who presided over the Public Inquiry, decided that MAG’s planning application should be approved. The Inspectors’ ruling, announced on 26 May 2021, also included a costs award against UDC for “unreasonable behaviour” – an accusation which stemmed from their failure to defend their own refusal decision. UDC could be liable to pay an estimated £1.5 million in costs to MAG. Notably, the accusation of “unreasonable behaviour” was not levelled against SSE and there is no costs award against us.
Appeal options are currently being considered.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 has radically changed the landscape. In the 12 months to 30 April 2021 Stansted handled just 3 million passengers, compared to 28 million in 2019. The latest approval increases Stansted’s permitted throughput from 35 million passengers per annum to 43 million passengers per annum. As matters stand that looks like a very distant prospect.
THE THREAT TO QUALITY OF LIFE ACROSS THE REGION
Stansted Airport already has a severe impact upon many tens of thousands of households across large parts of Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and any further major expansion would exacerbate its impact in the following respects:
* Noise from more and more aircraft flying overhead would affect vast swathes of the region.
* Increased night flights.
* Children at local schools would suffer ever more frequent interruptions to their learning – ‘jet pauses’ – as planes pass overhead.
* Many people currently unaffected by aircraft noise could find themselves suddenly blighted by additional flights and new flight paths.
* The pressure on the road and rail network from millions of extra passengers travelling to and from the airport would make our roads and rail services even more congested.
* Local air quality would be adversely have affected, both from additional aircraft and from road traffic, with implications for human health and ancient woodlands such as Hatfield Forest.
* Large airports are a magnet for commercial development and create increased pressure for more houses to support the growth at the airport and airport-related businesses. All of this would radically alter the character of the area and put pressure on all forms of infrastructure, including schools, healthcare and transport.
* The cumulative effect of all these impacts would have been a dramatic deterioration in the quality of life for tens of thousands of local people.
ADDING TO THE CLIMATE CHANGE BURDEN
Stansted Airport is already the largest single source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the East of England and at a time when urgent action is required by all of us to curtail CO2 emissions, it is wholly unsustainable to allow unfettered growth in the aviation sector. See the SSE Climate Change page.
OUR CURRENT PRIORITIES
* To resist the expansion of Stansted beyond its current limits and to ensure that the Government, local politicians, the media and others are constantly reminded that there is no justification for major expansion at Stansted.
* To maintain pressure on Stansted Airport to reduce and minimise the adverse impacts of its operations on the local community, night flights being a particular area of concern.
* To continue to work with other airport community groups and environmental NGOs, pressing for action to tackle the growing impact of aviation on climate change.