by Alan Dean on 29 June, 2019
Uttlesford Council yesterday overwhelmingly decided to withhold planning permission from Stansted Airport for more passengers and flights until the new planning committee has reviewed parts of the decision taken last November to give approval for growth.
It was a bold, unprecedented step that brings with it significant reputational and financial risks for both the applicant and the council. I would like to think that at the end of the exercise there will exist a more mature and mutually respectful relationship between airport operator and local planning authority, as well as with the primary community group on airport matters, Stop Stansted Expansion.
The application to grow beyond 35 million passengers a year to 43 million was approved in November, subject to a satisfactory legal agreement covering the obligations that the airport would have to deliver to make the expansion acceptable. It’s that agreement that councillors want to have scrutinised. The review of the agreement will also have to take account of material changes that have taken place in the past nearly eight months.
I supported the proposal, as did my Lib Dem, Residents for Uttlesford, Independent and one Conservative colleagues. Another Conservative abstained. A third, lone Conservative opposed the proposal.
There are significant risks associated with this move. Within a month, the airport could appeal the application on non-determination by complaining that Uttlesford has delayed for too long issuing the final planning permission decision notice. That would immediately lead to many more months’ delay whilst an appeal hearing was conducted and a decision reached. I hope the airport will be patient with the district council; but who knows?
The council must stick to the planning rules and remain within the law in what it does. Some new and inexperienced councillors may think they can do what they like now they’ve been elected. They can’t. In reviewing the so-called Section 106 (S.106) Agreement, the legal agreement covering Stansted’s obligations (things they have to do or pay someone else to do), councillors cannot demand things that are not necessary to make the proposed airport growth acceptable in planning terms. The council cannot, in effect, sell planning permission by demanding compensation that is not reasonable and necessary. To do so would be illegal. There are other restrictions that the planning system demands and that are enshrined in legislation.
Yesterday’s decision will cause tensions within the district council. Professional officers advised against deciding to proceed with the review. They previously thought they had the authority to issue the final decision notice. Indeed they did, but it’s been take back by elected members. Officers warned that Uttlesford – therefore, the taxpayer – could end up with a large bill. That’s true. There could be no improvements to show, or even fewer obligation benefits than now, at the end of what could turn into a planning appeal. I hope that council officers and members can find a way to carry out the agreed review in a constructive and expeditious manner. It’s in no one’s interest for it to drag on for months.
Stansted Airport Limited said yesterday that they are considering their next move. I hope their next move is to talk and not to fight. Their managing director recently wrote to me and other councillors saying that he wants to show us the airport and to talk about it. That seems to me a good way forward.
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