Campaign group launches legal challenge against Stansted Airport expansion plans

A campaign group has launched a legal challenge against the Department for Transport (DfT) over Stansted Airport's plans to increase passenger numbers by almost a quarter to 43 million per year.

Expansion plans: Stansted Airport in Essex
Expansion plans: Stansted Airport in Essex

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has applied for a judicial review at the High Court of the DfT's decision to allow the local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council, to determine Stansted’s application.

SSE says the expansion plans should instead be decided by the Planning Inspectorate as a development consent order under the government’s Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime.

Last year, 25.9 million passengers flew to and from Stansted, and the airport already has permission to increase this to 35 million. Stansted’s application, submitted in February,  seeks to increase this cap to 43 million passengers each year, a rise of eight million or 23 per cent.

Under the 2008 Planning Act, only airport developments proposing an increase in passenger numbers of 10 million or more should be considered under the NSIP regime.

However, SSE argues that Stansted’s plans represent an increase on current numbers of 66 per cent and a 44 per cent increase in flights. It accused Uttlesford of seeking to "rush through" Stansted’s application.

SSE chairman Peter Sanders said: "SSE's primary objective is to seek to safeguard the local community and local environment from unfettered and unsustainable airport expansion. 

"Regrettably, legal proceedings are sometimes an unavoidable part of trying to achieve this objective."   

In a statement, SSE said that if Uttlesford in the meantime determined the application, any decision could still be overturned if the High Court ruled in SSE’s favour.

A DfT spokesman confirmed the department had been contacted by SSE, adding: "The government is supportive of airports making best use of their existing runways as long as they address economic, environmental and other relevant planning issues. 

"We expect airports to work closely with communities and for approval to be determined by the appropriate planning authority." 

A spokesman for Uttlesford District Council said Manchester Airports Group had submitted a valid planning application, which it was under a statutory duty to determine. 

He said the council had extended the public consultation period and the time limit for making a decision to ensure its planning committee had all the information it needed.

"Far from 'rushing through the planning application', the council has taken a great deal of care to ensure that the planning application is considered properly," he said.

A spokesman for Stansted Airport, which is part of Manchester Airports Group, said SSE had written to the DfT earlier this year requesting the application be considered under the NSIP regime, and that the DfT had written back rejecting its request "on a number of grounds".

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