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27 January, 2020 - 22:12 By Tony Quested

Forces unite behind Stansted to fight council’s ‘ninja Nimbys’

Lawyers for Manchester Airports Group are drafting battle plans to clinch expansion for Stansted Airport after Uttlesford councillors tossed out a growth blueprint designed to create an extra 5,000 jobs and add £1 billion of economic value.

MAG is in the mood to wheel out as many big guns as it can muster in an aviation Alamo to force a surrender in an extracted development battle with Uttleford’s  NIMBY ninjas who oppose further expansion at the Essex hub.

The council’s planning committee originally approved the airport’s proposals in November 2018 but in May 2019, the Residents for Uttlesford group took control of the council and decided to refer the original decision back to the planning committee which met last Friday and kicked out the expansion plan.

Councillors said the reasons for refusal were in relation to noise, air quality and climate change – “matters the committee agreed were material planning changes since the approval was granted.”

Business Weekly expects lawyers for MAG to lodge a swift appeal to trigger a public inquiry which could prove extremely costly – especially to the council. A top legal team is understood to be re-examining a number of key technical points to ensure that the challenge when it comes exposes what they believe to be fundamental errors by the council in planning and legal terms.

Stansted has also received overwhelming support from business leaders, the influential Unite union and tourism and economic chiefs who have pledged to fight alongside MAG to get the council’s refusal overturned and have roundly condemned councillors for their U-turn.

Pete Waters, executive director at Visit East of England, said: “We’re incredibly disappointed with the outcome of the planning process. Rather than looking at the bigger picture, in particular the economic and employment benefits, this result smacks of NIMBYism by a group of people whose only care appears to be their third of an acre.

“This sends completely the wrong message to the thousands of Uttlesford residents who are employed in the tourism industry and indeed use the airport as a place of work or as their gateway to the world. A healthy Stansted is a healthy East of England.”

Denise Rossiter,  chief executive of Essex Chambers of Commerce, added: “It is extremely disappointing that Uttlesford’s councillors have once again adopted a negative attitude towards Stansted’s ambitions for the future. 

“I had hoped that they would see the importance of this application in helping generate jobs and stimulate the local economy as well as contributing towards improvements in the local infrastructure but they haven’t and Essex as a whole will suffer from their short sightedness.”

Perhaps the most biting criticism has come from Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, which has more than 2,500 members at the Essex airport and strongly supports the airport’s expansion as a major employment generator.

Unite regional officer Mark Barter said: “We deplore this short-sighted decision by Uttlesford district council’s planning committee which will have an adverse impact on future employment growth at the airport and, more widely, will have negative ripple effects across the region’s economy.

“We will be working with Stansted’s stakeholders, including the owner Manchester Airports Group as to the best way that this flawed decision can be challenged.

“With an insecure economic climate and the need to provide quality, well paid jobs for current and future generations, Friday’s decision is a step backwards.

“From tourism to the hi-tech industry, businesses are desperate to have easy, efficient access to Stansted Airport’s increasing gateways to the world – and this now appears to have been put in jeopardy.

“There is no denying that the airport delivers substantial benefits to the Uttlesford, Essex and East of England economies. This comes in many forms, but most notably from the 12,000 on-site jobs, of which over 2,500 are Uttlesford residents.

“Planning permission would have created 5,000 more jobs at the airport and a further £1bn of economic value would also have been generated.”

A spokesperson for London Stansted Airport said: “From the outset, we have listened to local communities to put forward an application that delivers the benefits of growth and a comprehensive package of mitigation measures to benefit local communities.

“We are naturally disappointed that the Planning Committee has chosen to consciously ignore the recommendations of not only its own officers but also the additional advice it commissioned at significant cost to the taxpayer from independent technical experts and lawyers. The conclusions of this advice were clear that there should be no impediment to granting approval.”

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