Stansted homes buy-out plans fury

FURIOUS campaigners fighting plans to expand Stansted Airport last night branded an offer to buy their homes early "the worst kind of low level bribery".

By Roddy Ashworth

FURIOUS campaigners fighting plans to expand Stansted Airport last night branded an offer to buy their homes early "the worst kind of low level bribery".

Around 100 properties fall within the new boundary of the airport and will need to be bulldozed in order to make way for a proposed new runway.

Normally compulsory purchase orders are issued only after planning permission for major projects is granted.

But yesterday Terry Morgan, managing director of BAA Stansted, said the company would be prepared to buy any home due to be demolished at any time in the future to suit the owner.

However, it was immediately branded a "sop" by the Stop Stansted Expansion group, which still hopes to halt plans for a second runway.

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The offer, Mr Morgan said, was to stop possible years of uncertainty which affected residents could find themselves in as the proposals work their way through the anticipated lengthy planning process.

Mr Morgan said: "No-one can be sure how long it will take to get planning permission for the Stansted expansion, so today we are delivering certainty and flexibility to those whose homes will unfortunately need to be taken, with our Home Value Guarantee Scheme.

"Through the scheme, home owners will be able to sell to BAA at a time that suits them for the full market value of their property, based on June 2002 values and index linked to regional property prices. We will also cover removal costs.

"On top of this, home-owners who sell will be entitled to an ex-gratia payment of 10% of the value of the home when BAA obtains planning permission."

Mr Morgan made his comments at a press conference at the Essex airport, where a group of anti-expansion demonstrators also gathered.

He added that another scheme would be introduced for those close to the new runway who wanted to move but whose property values were severely affected by the prospect of noise.

BAA also committed itself to an acoustic insulation scheme for properties affected by noise.

"These schemes offer people significantly better terms than those usually available. We are determined that we will engage in regular dialogue with our neighbours at Stansted to ensure we do everything possible to address their concerns," Mr Morgan said.

But last night a spokeswoman for pressure group Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) said: "This is the worst kind of low level bribery. It's a sop. It would lead to the destruction of communities. How can you put a value on our heritage, homes and countryside?"

She added that the group would keep campaigning against the expansion of the airport and could mount a series of legal and regulatory challenges.

"We have got enough to tie BAA and the Government in knots for years to come.

"We have enough to blow BAA's plans out of the water."

Maggie Sutton, who lives with her family in a house in Broxted, within the boundaries of the enlarged airport, said she did not think it was possible to compensate people for being forced to move out.

"It won't work. It would be so hard to replace what we have got here. To be honest, if I had wanted to move I would have moved.

"The quality of life we have here is fantastic. My mother and sister live locally. The reason I moved from London was for my children to live their lives here. We have the most wonderful views.

"We all feel terrible. We are all walking around the village totally numb. It is a very, very tight-knit community. It's a very sad day."

Peter Gowan, 67, who lives in a house on the edge of the airport's boundaries, said he would have to move out if it expanded.

"I am still totally against it. My wife sings in the local church choir. We have our friends and community. What hope is there for us to move to a totally new area and settle in? Our life would be ruined.

"It is the community spirit which is going to be broken. It is devastating."

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