Councillors call for airport decision notice to be halted
PUBLISHED: 08:25 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:35 11 April 2019
The formal approval notice for Stansted Airport’s expansion should be withheld until a planning agreement has been negotiated and approved by the council’s planning committee, councillors have said.
An extraordinary council meeting, called by Liberal Democrat and Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) councillors, will be arranged to ask Uttlesford District Council’s (UDC) chief executive not to issue a decision notice to Stansted Airport until the Section 106 agreement and planning conditions have been “scrutinised, reviewed and approved by the council’s planning committee after the local elections”.
Councillor Alan Dean, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in Uttlesford, said: “I am deeply concerned about current events, at what seems to be a serious short-changing of the residents of Uttlesford, and beyond, by a weak planning Section 106 legal agreement.
“The agreement should not be concluded this side of the May election. The decision notice should not be issued until a balanced agreement has been negotiated and has received elected member ratification. It would be democratically and politically unwise to issue a decision notice at this sensitive time.”
Councillors voted to approve the airport’s application to raise its annual passenger cap from 35 million passengers per annum to 43 million, in November.
R4U’s Councillor Garry LeCount, district councillor for Elsenham and Henham, said councillors on the planning committee have been blocked from seeing the legal agreements.
He said: “The UDC leadership have stated that they intend to issue the final approval decision notice in the next few weeks. Election law doesn’t allow important decisions like this to be made in the six weeks before an election. What the UDC leadership is attempting to do is highly irregular and we don’t like it.
“There are unresolved concerns that the whole thing has been mishandled. These include legal and oversight issues, and it is now subject to a formal scrutiny review. Stop Stansted Expansion have launched a judicial review. These must be allowed to follow proper process before the final decision is issued.”
Cllr Dean added: “The council has an obligation to ensure that the various agreements and conditions attached to any planning application are in the best interest of the residents of Uttlesford and the wider region. That requires transparent, democratic input.”
It is understood that the extraordinary meeting must be called within seven days.
Councillor Howard Rolfe, leader of Uttlesford District Council, said: “I fully appreciate there are strong views about the use of Stansted Airport and agree that we must work together to mitigate the problems whilst accepting the benefits.
“When the planning committee determined the application they delegated the authorisation of the agreement and the issuing of the decision to officers. The committee report set out what a Section 106 would need to address and the content was the consequence of extensive discussions with statutory consultees, external experts and legal counsel.
“Officers could not proceed whilst the secretary of state was determining the appeal but now this is dealt with it is their statutory duty to proceed swiftly. Timings of elections are irrelevant to this statutory duty.
“R4U is bringing politics into planning which it does consistently and which would lead to chaos. If they continue to interfere with a semi-judicial process that is based on planning law then the Government will withdraw their rights to determination. This reckless attitude to local government is deeply concerning and has unpleasant consequences.
“Councillor LeCount is badly misinformed. The leadership at UDC has had nothing to do with the decision to proceed.
“I have said UDC will not be bullied and I believe that residents would expect this. We must follow the law and the statutory process.”
A spokesman for UDC said: “Officers have been acting to implement the instructions of the committee since [November 2018] but had to await the outcome of the secretary of state’s considerations regarding call-in, which was received on March 20, before concluding all actions.
“As the decision was taken in November 2018, this clearly falls outside of the pre-election period.
“The final draft of the Section 106 agreement was published on the council’s website on March 28 and all members’ attention was drawn to this on March 29.”