Call for airport inquiry to be scrapped

FOUR Essex councils yesterday wrote to Government Minister Hazel Blears calling for the scrapping of a forthcoming inquiry into Stansted Airport's plans for a second runway.

Roddy Ashworth

FOUR Essex councils yesterday wrote to Government Minister Hazel Blears calling for the scrapping of a forthcoming inquiry into Stansted Airport's plans for a second runway.

But yesterday Ms Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, responded by saying the date for an inquiry would be announced by the end of next month.

A spokesman said: “We will announce by the end of next month when the inquiry will start. There will then be a minimum of eight weeks between the announcement and the start of the inquiry.”

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The councils claimed that going ahead with the public inquiry would be “hugely wasteful” of public money at a time when the public purse was extremely tight.

The inquiry has already been delayed once after the Competition Commission ordered Stansted's owner, BAA, to sell the airport.

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Essex County Council cabinet member John Jowers said: “The planning application for a second runway is now completely unviable with the applicant, BAA, now being forced to sell Stansted and predictions of falling passenger demand turning into a reality.

“While the minister may consider herself unable to cancel the public inquiry, no matter how hopeless the application seems, we would ask her to use her influence to bring this process finally to an end.”

The letter was sent on behalf of Essex and Hertfordshire county councils and East Herts and Uttlesford district councils.

The authorities are among 10 that have joined forces to form the campaign group CO2 to oppose the controversial plans, which would see acres of countryside concreted over and a number of listed buildings demolished.

Jim Ketteridge, leader of Uttlesford District Council, said: “It seems incredible that serious consideration could still be given to holding this public inquiry, especially given the current economic climate.

“On behalf of the people of Uttlesford, I am calling on the Secretary of State to put a stop to this now - before taxpayers' money is wasted on this fruitless and futile exercise.”

If the additional runway plans were approved, a second terminal would also be added to the airport.

It could then serve up to 68 million passengers a year, with the first flights from the second runway taking off in 2017.

Currently, the airport can cater for 35 million passengers a year.

An airport spokesman said it had also been approached by Uttlesford District Council asking for it to call off the inquiry and that a letter would be written in response.

“The letter will make it crystal clear that BAA does not intend to withdraw its application for the second runway and associated facilities at Stansted airport.

“BAA does not agree with the local authorities that the inquiry should be deferred for reasons relating to changes in traffic forecasts and nor do we agree that this is a reason for withdrawing our application.

“In addition, BAA has always held the view that more runway capacity is needed in the South East of England.

“It is also evident that the Competition Commission wishes to retain the opportunity to provide more runway capacity at Stansted, whoever owns the airport.

“So, while BAA needs more time to consider its response to the Competition Commission's report, we will not be withdrawing our application in the meantime.”

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