Bid to block airport expansion reaches the end of the runway

People stand far apart, social distancing for Covid-19. All of them have bags, about to board a plane

Social distancing in Stansted Airport. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Councillors will not contest a High Court ruling which lets Stansted Airport increase its capacity by eight million passengers per year.

Uttlesford District councillors agreed to end their attempts to block the airport's plan to build nine new aircraft stands at a meeting yesterday (October 6).

Councillors insisted that the process so far - which is rumoured to have cost £2.5 million - is money well spent to secure a green future for children in the region.

But opposition councillors have disagreed and called on senior UDC politicians to apologise for a "waste" of taxpayers' money.

Residents for Uttlesford councillor Louise Pepper, who is responsible for green issues at UDC, said there was no cause for regret.

Cllr Pepper said: "This was not a politicised planning application, it was a moral obligation to secure our children's future."

She added: "The cost to the planet far outweighs the cost to our council.

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"Stansted Airport is our biggest CO2 emitter in the East, but rather conveniently, it is not included in our district's carbon accounting because it is out of our scope."

Residents for Uttlesford councillors Petrina Lees and Louise Pepper

Residents for Uttlesford councillors Petrina Lees and Louise Pepper - Credit: Uttlesford District Council/Archant

The council's Planning Committee originally denied Stansted Airport permission to boost capacity.

But government inspectors overturned the council's judgement in May after a process which cost Uttlesford taxpayers £1,034,000 - plus £15,000 to cover Stansted Airport's appeal costs.

The council asked the High Court to review the decision citing noise and environmental concerns, a request which judges denied.

Councillors have accepted the ruling, which has been hailed a "disaster".

Cllr George Smith (Conservatives) said: "The total £2.5 million could have been better spent on so many council services.

"The taxpayers deserve an apology from this council for the waste of that money."

Cllr Smith said council leaders should accept responsibility for the result.

He said: "It is not fair to argue that the government and the inspectors did not consider the environment."

Councillor George Smith, Conservatives

Councillor George Smith, Conservatives - Credit: Uttlesford District Council

Cllr Paul Fairhurst, who was an R4U member before defecting to the Greens in 2019, tabled a vote calling for senior R4U politicians to resign at the meeting.

He said: "This is a disaster.

"Our every request for explanation and clarification was met with 'legal privilege' or simply - 'members have no role in these proceedings'."

Cllr Fairhurst claimed an emergency meeting to discuss the plans took a month to schedule.

He said: "The leadership actively stifled this and instead withdrew to a secret meeting, and we were put in our place and told to get written answers to all our questions.

"To date, these answers have not been received."

Councillor Paul Fairhurst, Green

Councillor Paul Fairhurst, Green - Credit: Uttlesford District Council

Members voted not to force leaders to resign 19 votes to 12.

UDC deputy leader Cllr Petrina Lees said after the meeting: "We have had to stop appealing now because services may have had to be reduced if we continued to spend.

"There was a lot of chit-chat in tonight's meeting that we have lost around £2.5 million.

"We have not lost this money because we budgeted for it."

Cllr Melvin Caton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: "It's sad that we get to a situation where people haven't got humility in the face of a big disaster for the district.

"Stansted Airport is the biggest influence in the district, and it's gone pear-shaped."

Cllr Caton represents Stansted South and Birchanger, a council ward near the airport.

When asked about job opportunities for his voters, he replied: "Employees are important and they've gone through a bad time - I'm in favour of more jobs on site.

"For me, it's about balancing the environmental impacts with economic activity."

Councillor Melvin Caton, Liberal Democrats

Councillor Melvin Caton, Liberal Democrats - Credit: Uttlesford District Council

A sign reads "Testing Centre" with an arrow straight on

Stansted Airport says it hopes to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Stansted Airport has welcomed the council's decision.

An airport spokesperson said: "It was regrettable that UDC allowed itself to be misled by environmental assertions that were not based in fact.

"The High Court’s dismissal of this reckless move from UDC means we can focus fully on our vision for Stansted, continuing our hard work to recover following the pandemic."

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