‘Too late’ for council to reverse decision on airport, says incoming administration

Passengers at the terminal concourse at Stansted Airport. Airport owner Manchester Airports Group (M

Passengers at the terminal concourse at Stansted Airport. Airport owner Manchester Airports Group (MAG) wants to increase the number of passengers it's allowed to have Picture: LUCY MARTIN - Credit: Archant

The leader of a residents’ group which dramatically ousted the Conservative administration in the May local elections at the Essex district which is home to Stansted airport has hit out at what he believes was a flawed decision to back plans for its expansion, but said it couldn’t be overturned by the council now.

Councillor John Lodge, whose Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) group swept to power at Uttlesford District Council on the wave of anti-Conservative sentiment locally, claimed there was insufficient road and rail transport infrastructure to cope now, let alone with greater volumes of passengers.

But it was now too late for the council to reverse a planning decision to raise the ceiling on passenger numbers at the airport, he said. "We'll absolutely not be happy, but we'll have no option," he said.

However, the new ruling party would be scrutinising a Section 106 legal agreement to ensure it is fully aligned to the application.

"We can't stop it - the planning permission has been granted," he said. "We have a legal obligation."

R4U now has 26 councillors (up 15), Liberal Democrats seven (up one), Conservatives four (minus 19) and Independents two (plus one).

A final decision to approve the Stansted plan was delayed until after the election after R4U was successful in putting it back to seek legal advice on the planning agreement, and a meeting is now due to take place on June 3, with councillors receiving behind-close-doors briefings in the run-up.

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"There's sufficient reason, we think, for having a very careful look at the Section 106," said Mr Lodge. "All we are trying to do is to align the demands in the application with the Section 106."

This at the moment was "wrong", he said. "We are not going to do anything that's illegal. We'll ensure that the 106 is correct and then the permission will be granted."

However, a separate lobbying body, Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), continues to seek a judicial review of the application. Mr Lodge felt there was a "strong chance" a judicial review could find fault, but that would be "for a judge to determine".

Under the Conservative administration, R4U opposed the expansion application for a number of reasons, including that it doesn't address issues around an 'insufficient' rail link with London and road link via junction 8 of the M11.

"It's pretty much at capacity at the moment - the services are inadequate," said Mr Lodge. "We are building ourselves a massive infrastructure issue."

The airport was "a major issue" on the doorstep, he added, along with the district plan including proposals to create a new town near the airport and library closures.

Airport congestion was a big concern for voters, as was village fly parking by airport taxi firms and noise, he said.

The airport was "an important part" of the business life of the district and "loved" by residents who use the facility, he admitted.

"However, what we are saying is that the airport must contribute to the community and infrastructure needs of the community," he said.

The electoral victory was "stunning", he said, and although party organisers felt they would become the biggest party, the scale of the victory had taken them by surprise. The airport issue was "massive", he said.

"The airport itself is probably the single most important issue in the last few weeks leading up to the local election."

SSE chairman Peter Sanders said the arrival of a new administration was "an opportunity for a fresh approach".

"I very much regret the fact that our relationship with Uttlesford District Council has been strained in recent times as a result of the council's mishandling of the current Stansted Airport planning application. We now have a change of administration and I am optimistic that this will allow us, once again, to have a cordial and business-like relationship with the council."

An airport spokesman said: "We congratulate the new administration on its election success and look forward to working with them to increase prosperity and opportunity in the district in a balanced, appropriate and responsible manner."