Tourism body launches scathing attack on council over 'disappointing' delay to Stansted expansion
PUBLISHED: 16:18 21 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:18 21 August 2019
A controversial move to delay final approval for Stansted Airport's passenger expansion plans has come under fire from the region's lucrative tourism industry.
Visit East of England has warned that a decision by Uttlesford District Council to put it back could stall growth in the region, affecting thousands of jobs and threatening its chances of becoming an official government 'Tourism Zone'.
The body, which speaks for the sector, said the political procrastination on the issue by the local authority- which is now run by Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) after the Conservative administration was toppled from power at council elections earlier this year - sends an "unsatisfactory" message to thousands of local people who rely on the airport to deliver millions of tourists every year, as well as the wider economy.
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"Having given permission last autumn for the start of a £600m transformation programme, it is extremely disappointing that ten months on Uttlesford District Council is no further forward on this issue and prefers instead to waste tax-payers money on political sport,' said Visit East of England executive director Pete Waters.
The visitor economy of the East of England is worth £10bn a year. According to 2017 figures, Norfolk's is worth £3.25bn, Suffolk's £2bn, Essex's £3bn and Cambridgeshire around £2bn.
In June this year, the government published its long-awaited Tourism Sector Deal enabling regions to bid to become one of five new Tourism Zones across England to receive support to drive visitor numbers.
Tourism Zones will be chosen through a bidding process run by the British Tourist Authority and will focus on increasing productivity in the visitor economy, extending the tourism season, investing in skills, and addressing 'local market failures'.
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"The East of England is in a good position to submit a strong proposal to become a Tourism Zone but this move by Uttlesford District Council sends completely the wrong message about the region's commitment to growing the sector. It could also jeopardise future opportunities to bid for funding," said Mr Waters.
"The airport's unrivalled access to Europe and potential new destinations in the US, Asia and the Middle East will further open up the region to inbound leisure passengers and help promote tourist attractions across Essex, including the market town of Saffron Walden and Audley End House, and tourist hotspots across the wider region such as IWM Duxford, Newmarket Racecourse, the Norfolk Broads and Suffolk Coast, and historic cities of Cambridge and Norwich."
It was "vital" that local government supports "sustainable and responsible plans" put forward by their local airports, he said.
"If they don't, airlines will choose to go elsewhere - be that in this country or other markets across Europe and around the world," he said.
Stansted attracts 12m inbound passengers every year, and is seen as the international gateway to the East of
England, he added.
According to the government's East of England Forecasting Model and UK Commission for Employment and Skills' Working Futures survey the region's visitor economy is expected to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024 - double the growth across the overall economy.
Council leader John Lodge of R4U has been contacted for a response.