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District council hit with full costs after planning inspectors back expansion at Stansted Airport

Uttlesford District Council’s leader has urged Whitehall to rectify “an insult to local democracy” by the Planning Inspectorate over the expansion of Stansted airport.

Leader John Lodge said that although the council could challenge the inspectorate by judicial review this process would be unable to “address the much more fundamental point that my residents express: why was this decision taken just before new legislation comes into force setting out a new direction of travel for the protection of our planet?”

Uttlesford had refused permission for the airport to increase passenger numbers from 35m to 43m a year.

But planning inspectors overturned this at a public inquiry without, Cllr Lodge said, taking account of the Government’s acceptance of the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation for a 78% cut in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2035, including international aviation and shipping.

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He said this was expected to be given effect by a draft Statutory Instrument due to come into force by the end of June.

Cllr Lodge said in his letter to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps: “Uttlesford Council’s planning committee very thoroughly weighed up the evidence before them but were also mindful of the issues coming down the line; they wanted to exercise their place making function and community leadership role fully, responsibly and with due consideration to the future of all: the residents, businesses, nature and climate.

“We are distraught that [the inspectors] did not or were not able to do likewise; moreover, we are outraged that they would not see how challenging this decision had been for elected members nor how carefully they had approached it and awarded full costs against the council. This is an insult to local democracy and I would again urge you to intervene.”

The letter urged the two secretaries of state to commit to aviation demand management to prevent the implementation of the planning permission even if it legally stood.

39 Essex Street Chambers, which acted for Stansted’s owner Manchester Airport Group, said the appeal to inspectors had been against the council’s reversal of stance on planning permission.

This had been granted by a Conservative administration in 2018 but overturned by the new Residents for Uttlesford administration which took over the following year.

It said the new administration refused permission on the grounds of alleged air quality, noise and climate change impacts, contrary to officers’ advice.

The chambers said the inspectors had agreed with the airport’s assessment that the environmental impacts of the development would be negligible and were clearly outweighed by the “very strong support” for the scheme in national aviation policy and “significant additional employment and economic benefits, as well as some improvement in overall noise and health conditions”.

Inspectors made a costs order against the council, though not for a specific sum.

They said Uttlesford had reversed its position on planning permission “despite advice from its officers that there had been no material changes in policy or circumstances that would justify a different decision…this was notwithstanding the negligible impacts that had been identified and accepted within the environmental statement, the conclusions of which remained substantially unchallenged”.

Uttlesford’s reasons for refusal had been “unquestionably vague and generalised, suggesting that the appellant had failed to demonstrate the effects on aircraft noise and air quality despite the extensive evidence presented and accepted on these topics,” the inspectors said.

"The reasons for refusal left the actual and specific concerns of the council opaque, even having regard to the committee minutes.”

Mark Smulian

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