Leagl bid to stop Stansted expansion

By James HoreLEGAL action will start this morning in a bid to stop the expansion of Stansted Airport and save part of the countryside from destruction.

By James Hore

LEGAL action will start this morning in a bid to stop the expansion of Stansted Airport and save part of the countryside from destruction.

The long-awaited judicial review of the Government's aviation White Paper will begin in the High Court in London and is seen by many as the last chance to halt the plan for a second runway at the Essex airport.

A coalition of five local authorities, led by Essex County Council, will argue the Government has failed to provide a convincing case for the airport's expansion, saying its plan was "unwanted and unrealistic".

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A challenge will also be heard from the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign group, which will claim the process used for the development of the Government's aviation policy in the White Paper, published last December, was "fundamentally flawed".

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has said he wanted to see the new Stansted Airport runway - which will more than quadruple capacity - completed by 2012, maintaining it would bring substantial economic benefits.

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However, the expansion would lead to the demolition of about 100 properties, including two ancient monuments and 39 grade II listed buildings.

Lord Hanningfield, the leader of Essex County Council, has criticised the proposal as "unwanted and unworkable".

He said that as the plan stood, a second runway would lead to virtually a whole new airport with capacity for further expansion.

Stop Stansted Expansion chairman, Peter Sanders, added: "We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge before us because the courts have never before overturned a Government White Paper.

"However, we believe that in this particular case we can clearly demonstrate to the High Court that the Government's enthusiasm to sanction massive airport expansion in south-east England resulted in it bungling and bulldozing its way through to the White Paper, ignoring proper processes and its own ground rules and chopping and changing the issues under consideration without consulting or even informing the public of the changes."

But airport operator BAA gave its backing to the Government, saying it fully supported the aviation White Paper.

The company added it was in touch with residents on the potential impact of airport growth. "We are also consulting on voluntary compensation schemes which go beyond our statutory obligations," it said.

On the possible blighting of property, BAA said it had already introduced a voluntary scheme to purchase properties that were within the proposed extended boundary of Stansted Airport.

It added a further scheme would take effect from January, designed to help people who owned property in the area closest to the site of the proposed runway.

The High Court challenge - which will also look at the Government's plans for expansion at Heathrow and Luton Airports - will highlight what anti-expansion groups claimed were the key "flaws" in the White Paper. These include:

n the absence of a commercial justification for a second Stansted Airport runway, contrary to the Government's own requirements for the consultation

n the failure to make clear in the consultation that the ending of the practice of using runways in alternation at Heathrow Airport - a method of ensuring some respite from overflying for people living in west London - could be a short-term alternative to a third runway

n the failure to consult on the extended runway proposals put forward for Luton Airport

n the failure to provide information to the public about alternative development proposals for airports that had been submitted or to give proper consideration to these options

n the failure to inform or consult the public about other fundamental shifts in the Government's position that took place during the course of the consultation.

The High Court hearing will take place before Mr Justice Sullivan, who is likely to give his decision in February.


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