Airport campaigners' fury at 'steamroll'

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the second runway at Stansted Airport have reacted furiously to plans to “steamroller” next year's public inquiry.

James Hore

CAMPAIGNERS fighting the second runway at Stansted Airport have reacted furiously to plans to “steamroller” next year's public inquiry.

Airport operator BAA is hoping to get the go-ahead for a major expansion at the Essex-airport which would make it bigger and busier than Heathrow.

A public inquiry into the plan begins next year but it has now emerged the planning inspector wants to complete the process at a “breakneck pace” of six months.

The revelation came in a note from the Planning Inspectorate issued ahead of a pre-inquiry meeting scheduled for next Monday where the inquiry programme will be discussed.

Those opposed to the runway believe the plan to run parallel sessions looking at different subjects in separate inquiry rooms would “severely compromise” the community's ability to be fully involved in the inquiry due to their limited resources.

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Stop Stansted Expansion Campaign said last night it would effectively be “impossible” for residents to carry out a fair examination of BAA's plans.

They also branded the inquiry “quick and dirty”, saying they fear ministerial pressure is being applied to influence what should be an independent process.

Carol Barbone, campaign director, said: “The way in which the inspector is proposing to run the inquiry is an affront to the very principles of fairness and justice.

“Twin tracking is completely unacceptable for an inquiry where there are so many complex inter-relationships between one topic and another.

“We shall not shirk from going to the courts, if necessary, to defend the right of this local community to have a proper opportunity to scrutinise and challenge BAA's plans within a realistic programme that allows for full and fair public participation.

“We would need to consider whether it was best to do this either before the inquiry started or at the end of the inquiry process.

“The right to public participation in the decision-making process and to access to justice in environmental matters is a fundamental principle now enshrined in European Law.”

Last year's Public Inquiry, to consider BAA's request for permission to handle an extra 10 million passengers a year on the existing Stansted runway, ran from May 30 to October 19.

The bid for a second runway is the UK's biggest ever airport planning application and if it got the green light 68 million passengers per year would use it, according to campaigners.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “New rules were brought in to prevent planning inquiries from dragging on for years and forcing local voices out because of unnecessary delays.

“The detailed timing and process of inquiries is a matter for the independent inspector, who will make recommendations to ministers in due course, having considered all the evidence from parties.”

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