Former MP calls on district council for speedy resolution to Stansted Airport planning saga
PUBLISHED: 08:17 22 November 2019
Saffron Photo 2017
Former Saffron Walden MP, Lord Alan Haselhurst has urged Uttlesford District Council to reach a verdict regarding a major Stansted Airport application which was approved a year ago.
The Tory peer, who was MP for Saffron Walden between 1977 and 2017, said it "augurs badly for the long-term interest of local people for their council to be engaging in what might appear to be a public and long-running spat" with the airport.
However, a spokesman for Residents for Uttlesford (R4U), the council's controlling group, said its members were "committed to striking a fairer deal with the airport".
An application to increase Stansted Airport's annual passenger throughput from 35million a year to 43million was approved by the Conservative-run council on November 15 last year.
However, in May this year, R4U swept to power and councillors voted in June not to issue the planning approval notice, deciding instead to refer the issue back to the planning committee. A date for the committee meeting has not yet been set.
In a letter to council leader John Lodge, Lord Haselhurst, who is the chairman of the West Anglia Taskforce, which is pressing for additional track capacity on railways services between London and Cambridge, said: "Of all the many good reasons for improving the quality of service on our railway, one is emerging that could prove potent and possibly decisive in government circles.
"I am referring to capacity within the London airports system. Heathrow and Gatwick are virtually full. Stansted, for the next seven years at least, remains the only international airport in the London area with substantial spare capacity to help Britain remain open for business.
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"Stansted has become the fourth largest airport in the UK, by far the biggest employer in Uttlesford and a notable contributor to education and training facilities. I perfectly well understand the new council's wish to review its predecessor's decision.
"Yet seven months have passed without a conclusion. Meanwhile, new long-distance flights are being established at Stansted. New faster, better trains are shortly to be introduced on our railway.
"The need for extra track capacity is overwhelming if their full potential is to be achieved. It is hard to see how continuing delay on the council's part is helping anyone. The Government needs to know that London airports' capacity is ensured over the next few years. It augurs badly for the long-term interest of local people for their council to be engaging in what might appear to be a public and long-running spat with the largest company in the district.
"At the same time the taskforce is being denied probably the most powerful argument it can deploy in favour of a railway development of crucial importance to many in our region. I would be very grateful if you could assure me that the council's decision can be imminently expected."
Dan Starr, co-founder and vice chairman of R4U, said: "The truth of the matter is that the Tories tried to whip through an expansion of Stansted Airport before the local elections in May. Hidden in their negotiations with the airport was a 'surrender agreement', which failed to make the airport properly deal with noise, pollution, fly-parking in our villages, and road and rail capacity.
"They also failed to secure any increase in the measly proportion of jobs that go to local residents. Voters didn't like it and it was part of why they were punished at the ballot box. R4U has instead committed to striking a fairer deal with the airport over the next four years.
"Election 'purdah' rules do not allow politically-controversial matters to be decided during the run up to an election. Stansted Airport is considered nationally significant infrastructure, and the expansion was a political factor in the local election. R4U believe that now the district council has no option but to follow election rules and the Planning Inspectorate's general advice and so delay any final determination on the airport until after December 12."
A UDC spokesman confirmed the meeting will now take place after the election. He said: "It is not practical to take this back to the planning committee before January for a number of reasons including the election."