Council to launch planning probe in wake of Stansted Airport expansion approval

An Essex council is set to launch an independent review of the authority's handling of major planning applications, against advice from planners who said that such a probe would 'place considerable pressure on planning officers'.

Stansted Airport: expansion approved last year
Stansted Airport: expansion approved last year

The move comes weeks after Uttlesford District Council approved controversial plans for an expansion at Stansted Airport which is intended to increase capacity from 35 million to 43 million passengers per year.

According to a report considered by the council's scrutiny committee last week, councillors Mark Lemon and Barbara Light requested the review in light of "issues arising from the recent Stansted Airport application".

According to the report, the review would examine the council’s procedures in areas including pre-application advice, planning performance agreements, and engagement with councillors and the public.

The document advised councillors that consideration of the Stansted Airport application was a "complex process" and said "extensive work went into engagement with the public and with elected members".

The report said there was "merit in looking at the processes adopted by the council" to deal with major applications "with a view to identifying and developing best practice".

However, he added: "Officers advise strongly that it is not appropriate for the scrutiny committee to scrutinise individual decisions made by or on behalf of the council’s regulatory committees, including  decisions on individual applications made by the planning committee."

The report referred to a legal challenge which it said had called into question Uttlesford’s right to determine the Stansted application. "It would not be prudent to pursue a scrutiny review in parallel to live litigation," he said, adding that a further legal challenge could still be brought in relation to the planning committee’s decision.

He also warned that "even with independent consultancy support", conducting a review would "place considerable pressure on planning officers at a time when much work is going into the local plan submission and hearing preparation".

The report said that, if the committee decided to commission a review, "officers recommend that it is undertaken by an independent expert body, such as the Planning Advice Service. This is partly to ensure an appropriate level of professional input and partly because this would be a substantial piece of work, beyond the internal professional resource available."

According to the local press, councillors voted to press ahead with the review. Planning has approached the council to confirm this but it had yet to respond at time of publication. 

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