Airport bosses anger at expansion decision delay
- Credit: Archant
Stansted Airport chiefs have hit out after councillors asked for controversial plans to increase passenger limits to be reviewed.
Uttlesford District Council's planning committee agreed last November to allow the airport to increase the limit from 35million to 43million.
However, at an extraordinary general meeting of the council on Friday June 28) councillors defied legal advice from their own officers by referring the matter back to the planning committee. It had been warned such a decision could lead to a costly appeal.
Conservative councillor Christian Criscione was the only member to object to the amendment, accusing the ruling Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) administration of using the issue as a "political football".
The initial approval decision was made by the then ruling Conservative administration, which lost power in the May elections and was replaced by R4U.
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On April 25, R4U issued a requisition notice preventing UDC from issuing the final planning approval notice to the airport while it sought additional legal advice.
Friday's meeting afforded councillors the chance to reflect on the legal advice and determine whether to issue the planning approval notice.
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However Councillor Paul Fairhurst, of R4U, proposed an amendment which saw determination referred back to the planning committee instead, despite the appeal warning from council lawyers.
He said: "This is a major application. It might be the biggest application that we as a council will face. It deserves and demands the fullest attention.
"It is not the job of this full council to make this decision. We have a planning committee and it is its job. We either believe we have a planning committee that can do the job or not."
Councillor Anthony Gerard, of R4U, said: "The officers have their job. That is to gives us advice and give us recommendations, but it is for us to take decisions.
"There are issues that have been raised and we, as a council, have a quasi-judicial body called the planning committee that is trained to weigh up matters of planning.
"It is serious enough to warrant the amendment to a motion and this amendment is a much better way of handling this matter because we have a planning committee that is trained by planners and officers."
Councillor Criscione, Conservative member for Flitch Green and Dunmow, said the council had been left in an "untenable decision" by R4U with a likely legal challenge from Stansted Airport in the event the decision notice was not issued.
He said: "What grounds have we to ignore the overwhelming evidence provided to this council?"
A petition with more than 1,600 signatures calling for the application to be referred back to the planning committee was presented to the council at the start of the meeting by the Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) group.
Following the meeting, a spokesman for Stansted Airport said: ""We are concerned the council has not only chosen to ignore the recommendations of its own officers but also disregarded its independent legal advice which supports the original view that there is no legitimate reason to withhold approval for this application.
"Our frustration at this delay will no doubt also be shared by the considerable number of local residents, businesses, staff and on-site partners who have passionately backed these plans, which will boost our region's economic growth and deliver 5,000 additional jobs.
"From the outset we have listened to local views and this feedback lead us to put forward a proposal which maintained the cap on the number of flights and committed to deliver the growth within a legally binding smaller noise footprint than our existing permissions require.
"This forms part of a comprehensive set of mitigation measures which have been independently endorsed.
"We remain in discussion with the council while we consider all the options available to us."