Can region afford for Stansted expansion plans to be stalled as Brexit approaches?
PUBLISHED: 12:15 05 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:51 05 September 2019
The East of England 'cannot afford' to block Stansted airport's expansion plans with Brexit looming, a big-hitting business lobby group has warned.
In an unprecedented move, Chambers of Commerce across the East of England have joined forces to urge Uttlesford District Council not to stand in the way of the airport's bid to raise the ceiling on passengers it can serve from 35m to 43m a year.
It warned the region's economy risked being "locked on a low-growth trajectory" because of controversial council delays over the airport's growth plans.
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But Uttlesford council leader John Lodge hit back, claiming that the council actions aren't delaying matters, as the issue is set for a judicial review hearing at the High Court on November 14 - 16 following a legal challenge from anti-expansion campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion.
Mr Lodge accused council critics of "dashing to press on subjects they are not properly briefed on". "They are acting totally improperly - I have not heard a word from them," he said.
The leaders of Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Hertfordshire chambers - representing 6,450 businesses and more than half a million jobs - have written a joint letter to local government secretary Robert Jenrick, copying in Uttlesford council, setting out their concerns.
In November last year, Uttlesford approved plans to enable Stansted to grow, but since the Tory administration was ousted in council elections, and the Residents 4 Uttlesford party took control, the application has been controversially stalled.
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Mr Lodge said the application was "not settled", and they were working towards discussing it at a meeting at a date to be decided in October. "We are heading towards a meeting of the planning committee whereby we can make up for the shortcomings of the previous administration's handling of the application," he said. Council concerns centre around Section 106 mitigation measures, air and noise pollution and transport issues, he explained.
The chambers argue that the additional passengers will boost the East of England's economic growth, as well as delivering 5,000 additional jobs at London Stansted Airport.
British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall called on councillors to listen to their constituents, who rely on the airport for jobs.
"With Britain about to leave the European Union, we simply cannot afford to deny the East of England the opportunity to strengthen its ties with the rest of the world," he said.
Suffolk Chamber chief executive John Dugmore said Stansted was "fundamental" to the future success of the local and regional economy.
"By grabbing this opportunity, not denying it, we will see more investment, more economic growth, more jobs and more prosperity coming into our region," he said.
Essex Chambers boss Denise Rossiter said the airport was "a major asset" to the economy. "With spare runway capacity at a premium in the London airport system, it's an irrational and counter-intuitive step to block the economic and social development that the airport can provide," she added.