Campaign group accuse owners of Stansted Airport and district council of having a "cash for favours" agreement to rush through planning application
PUBLISHED: 08:38 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:44 15 March 2018
A campaign group aiming to stop the expansion of Stansted Airport has accused Uttlesford District Council and the owners of the airport of having a "cash for favours" secret agreement over a recently-submitted planning application.
Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has accused Uttlesford District Council (UDC) and Manchester Airports Group (MAG) of having an agreement involving financial contribution which, it says, is allowing the planning application to be rushed through without adequate scrutiny.
MAG and UDC have a Planning Policy Agreement (PPA) which is separate from the planning application fee and states that MAG will contribute £117,781 to the costs of project managing the application.
The breakdown of the costs for consultants, pre-application discussions and specialist knowledge has not been revealed.
SSE said that while it is not unheard of for a developer to contribute to the costs of handling a planning application, it insisted the UDC agreement had “strings attached”.
SSE said the money was conditional upon UDC meeting target dates to speed up the progress of Manchester Airports Group’s planning application.
SSE deputy chairman, Brian Ross said: “We’ve been concerned for some time about this planning application being rushed through and we’re now beginning to understand why this may be happening. In the interests of public trust and transparency UDC should immediately publish its agreement with MAG and disclose the level of financial contribution involved.
“Our central concern is the way they are rushing through the application giving no chance for proper scrutiny.”
SSE said the district council and MAG had “agreed a very tight timetable” of giving only a month more than the usual planning deadline.
It said the last comparable airport planning application, made by Heathrow Airport in 2006 for an additional 10million passengers per annum, allowed more than seven months for a decision to be made and “this enabled detailed consideration of the impacts and extensive public consultation”.
SSE said: “MAG may be providing the means for the UDC planning department to move into overdrive but parish and town councils, members of the public and local community organisations may not be able to keep pace.
“The price for an accelerated timetable is less public scrutiny and less community engagement.”
A UDC spokesman said: “The claims and inferences made by Stop Stansted Expansion are inaccurate and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the planning process.
“The PPA is separate from the planning application fee and will provide for the relevant officer time to project manage the application, dedicated time from Essex County Council officers as well as the cost of external consultancy advice. The council is not allowed to make a surplus from these arrangements but can properly recover its costs.
“Significantly, the existence of a PPA does not in any way impact on a planning authority in determining the outcome of any planning application. The council will be judging the planning application on its individual merits, taking into account environmental issues such as noise and air quality, as well as comments made by members of the public.”
The total fee payable to UDC according to the PPA document is £117,781.
A spokesman for Stansted Airport said: “Agreeing how an application like this will be considered by the local authority is an entirely normal part of the process for reaching a decision, including recognising what additional time and resource may be required by UDC to review the application.
“We have met all our obligations on our legal and planning requirements to deliver an application that we believe allows UDC to determine it on its merits within the required timescales.”