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 February 2018, MAG submitted a planning application seeking an increase in the current 35mppa passenger cap to 43mppa. We have vigorously opposed this planning application from the outset, challenging both through the planning process and through the courts.
Pre-pandemic, Stansted Airport was handling around 28 million passengers per annum (‘mppa’).
Despite our best efforts, the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council (‘UDC’) resolved to approve MAG’s 43mppa application on 14 November 2018 but we continued to challenge this and on 24 January 2020 UDC overturned its earlier decision and issued a refusal notice.
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 lodging an appeal on 24 July 2020. As a result, the Secretary of State had no choice but to set up a Public Inquiry to enable MAG’s planning application for 43mppa to be reconsidered.
In October 2020 the Inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State announced that a Public Inquiry to consider MAG’s appeal would start on 12 January 2021, despite pleas from ourselves and others 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. We 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 we often had to battle not only against MAG but also against UDC.
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, included a costs award against UDC for “unreasonable behaviour” – an accusation which stemmed, at least in part, from their failure to defend their own refusal decision. UDC could be liable to pay an estimated £1.5 million in costs to MAG.
In June 2021, UDC made an application to the High Court to challenge the Inspectors’ decision(s). However, this was quickly dismissed by the Court on the grounds that there was insufficient basis for a legal challenge.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 had a devastating impact on air travel in 2020 and 2021. After handling 28.1 million passengers in 2019, Stansted handled just 7.6 million passengers in 2020 and 7.1 million in 2021. However, since early this year, Stansted’s passenger numbers have recovered strongly and the airport is likely to handle about 24 million passengers this year. The current planning permission allows Stansted up to 43 million passengers per annum.