Compulsory training for councillors in wake of Stansted Airport appeal

A sign on chrome metal: Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Uttlesford councillors will have to have compulsory training as a result of a “botched” bid to block Stansted Airport from expanding to 43 million passengers a year.

Uttlesford District Council will also appoint a team to develop changes to its constitution in the wake of its efforts to stop the airport from expanding, which resulted in it losing a High Court battle in 2021.

The measures are part of a new action plan which the council met to approve on July 21, as well as to discuss the findings of an independent report into its handling of the appeal.

The report criticised the council’s refusal of the expansion as “politically motivated” and made “without clear evidential justification.”

Officer meetings with developers will also have to be noted after the report found there were missing records for 40 out of 42 meetings between airport and council officials.

Leader of the council Petrina Lees (Residents for Uttlesford, Takeley) urged cross-party councillors to support the plan.

She said: “We’re going to move forward with these recommendations and I think that they are excellent recommendations.”

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She later said: “Isn’t it best that we all carry out our respective duties correctly and well and then we carry them as well in an effective partnership together, which I think these recommendations have.”

The application by the airport to expand was originally approved in 2018, but the planning committee reconvened in January 2020 citing a “material change in circumstances”, and voted to refuse planning permission.

Conservative group leader Councillor George Smith (Con, Great Sampfords) said the council had spent at least £2.5m fighting the resultant appeal and that this could have been avoided, claiming the council had received legal advice not to revisit the application but proceeded to do so anyway.

He said: “Leadership is about taking difficult decisions, choices that we may not like that we recognise are in the interest of the district.

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to make good decisions and safeguard their money.”

Uttlesford District Council also made an offer of £1.4m to cover the airport’s appeal costs in June 2022.

Councillor Ayub Khan (Lib Dem and Green Alliance, Stansted South & Birchanger), the council’s opposition leader, called on Portfolio Holder for Planning, Stansted Airport, Infrastructure Strategy and the Local Plan John Evans (RfU, Felsted and Stebbing) to resign.

He said: “I would ask that he does so and does the right thing, offers his resignation for the botched defence of the appeal, his failure to understand the constitution and altering the decision of the planning committee to refuse the application to granting approval with conditions without full council’s knowledge and consent.”

Cllr Evans denied accusations of an “alleged lack of diligence” and said delegated planning matters were handled by officers, meaning he had no right to interfere.

The airport won a planning inspectorate appeal against the council’s refusal of the expansion in 2021.

The council then lodged a claim for a Planning Statutory Review in July that year after the airport won but this was thrown out by the High Court in October.