Council leader says decision to delay Stansted Airport plan could leave authority 'bankrupt'

PUBLISHED: 14:18 01 May 2019

Leader of UDC, Howard Rolfe.

Leader of UDC, Howard Rolfe.

Archant

Delaying the approval notice for Stansted Airport's planning permission to increase its passenger numbers could bankrupt the council, the leader of Uttlesford District Council (UDC) has claimed.

The decision notice for Stansted Airport's planning permission has been delayed until after the local elections.The decision notice for Stansted Airport's planning permission has been delayed until after the local elections.

A cross-party motion to delay the decision notice and review the Section 106 agreement between UDC and Stansted Airport was refused at an extraordinary meeting last Thursday (April 25).

But a second surprise 'requisition' to convene another extraordinary meeting was served by councillors at the end of the meeting, which means the decision notice will now not be issued until after the local elections on Thursday.

The new 'requisition' is asking for an independent review of the proposed Stansted Airport expansion.

Councillor John Lodge, chairman of Residents for Uttlesford (R4U), said: “Stansted Airport is national infrastructure. A huge expansion such as this will have a huge impact on our environment and transport, and the 47 town and parish councils that oppose it. It should not be improperly rushed through in the dying days of the district council administration.

“Many councillors feel this is happening and so last week we formally 'requisitioned' the council leadership to hold an extraordinary public council meeting to vote to delay any permission until after a further planning review.”

A motion which requested the planning committee review the draft Section 106 agreement between UDC and Stansted Airport was voted down by 18 to 14.

The 'requisition' to convene a second extraordinary meeting to examine the Section 106 agreement means Stansted Airport's decision notice will not be issued until after the local elections.

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Chairman of campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion, Peter Sanders, said: “Thankfully, there will now be an opportunity to look at this afresh in a less frenzied atmosphere after the local elections have run their course, whatever that course may be.”

Uttlesford Liberal Democract leader and district councillor for Stansted, Alan Dean, said councillors want to ensure the airport's legal obligations are a “fair deal for the local community”.

“In the opinion of a substantial minority of Uttlesford councillors, the draft deal, that was drawn up by council officials, favours the airport too much and the surrounding community too little,” Cllr Dean said.

But Councillor Howard Rolfe, council leader, said delaying the decision notice was an “abuse of process that could bankrupt the council”.

He said: “We appreciate that the increase in passenger numbers at Stansted Airport is an important and, for some, a sensitive issue. However a legitimate, legal planning decision has been taken and officers were instructed to negotiate the Section 106 arrangements.

“This was done by experts in conjunction with Essex County Council and an expert independent lawyer. These arrangements have been signed and the application is ready to be granted.

“UDC now has a statutory duty to proceed and if this does not happen then it is likely that the applicant will appeal to the secretary of state for non-determination. Most observers would feel the council had a weak case and losing the appeal would be very expensive, potentially up to a million pounds. This is an abuse of process that could bankrupt the council.

“The council's finances are finely balanced with big pressures coming in two to three years - losing a million pounds could jeopardise key services which is something the current administration has avoided by sound financial management and prudent investment. R4U is not committed to investments so how on earth would it pay for all the costs and avoid bankruptcy? This is a selfish, irresponsible abuse of power.”

A spokesman for Stansted Airport said: “While we welcome the fact that councillors voted against referring our S106 legal agreement back to its planning committee, we are disappointed that the actions of a small minority of councillors have led to the council delaying the issuing of our planning permission. Our comprehensive mitigation package has already been the subject of many months of negotiations, and has been reviewed and approved by the council's independent legal team and independent statutory consultees such as Highways England and Essex County Council before being approved by the council's own planning committee.

“This further review and delay is both regrettable and avoidable.”

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