Councils begin legal objections

COUNCILS across the east of England last night sounded the first shots in their battle to have the plans for airport expansion at Stansted declared illegal.

COUNCILS across the east of England last night sounded the first shots in their battle to have the plans for airport expansion at Stansted declared illegal.

The county councils of Essex and Hertfordshire, together with the district councils of Uttlesford and East Hertfordshire, yesterday began their legal objections.

As a first step in the legal process, the councils have written to Transport Secretary Alistair Darling raising issues in December's White Paper, which suggested two more runways were needed in the southeast - one more at Stansted by 2012 and another at Heathrow.

This new letter gives the Department for Transport an opportunity to revise the White Paper, but should that be declined, council leaders said the legal process "will begin in earnest".


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The councils are challenging the principal conclusions of the White Paper. 

Challenging the principal conclusions of the White Paper, the councils' objections are that existing proposals for an extension to Luton Airport's runway will provide extra capacity and negates the need for growth at the Essex airport. 

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The principal points of the challenge will be:

nThe wide spaced runway at Stansted, and the alignment of the extension at London Luton airport set out in the White Paper and shown on plans in it are too specific.

nThe White Paper as drafted effectively circumvents the statutory planning processes, and the councils say these are decisions that should properly go to a public inquiry where the local impacts can be studied in full.

nBreach of European law: by being too specific on location and alignment of the Stansted runways, the White Paper circumvents Environmental Impact Analysis.

nFunding and viability: at present neither the Government nor BAA know how the development and associated infrastructure is to be funded, and the Civil Aviation Authority will need to provide rules, for example on cross-subsidies from other airports.

nAt Luton the runway proposal in the White Paper is not one in the Consultation Paper and has therefore emerged without any public consultation.

Lord Hanningfield, Leader of Essex County Council said his council meant business.

He said: "We are particularly concerned about the land grab aspects of the Stansted proposals. 

"By spacing the runways so widely the current plans will provide space for two further runways on the same site. 

"Whatever the capacity being suggested as part of the current development, the expanded airport will have the footprint of a major terminal with space to expand to 120 million passengers each year.

"We believe that a fully accountable planning system can deal intelligently with these issues, but this case will explore just how much local accountability there still is in the UK planning system."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: "We have not yet seen the letter sent by the councils, but we look forward to reading it and responding appropriately.

"In the meantime, we stand by everything set out in the White Paper," she added.

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