Stansted gets go-ahead to expand

SUFFOLK'S skies will see thousands more jet planes a year after Stansted was today given the go-ahead to use its current runway to its maximum.

Richard Cornwell

SUFFOLK'S skies will see thousands more jet planes a year after Stansted was today given the go-ahead to use its current runway to its maximum.

BAA Stansted announced it had won the public inquiry held last year - despite huge opposition from campaign groups.

The decision by the secretaries of state for transport and communities and local government will allow the Essex airport to be used by up to 35 million passengers a year - ten million more than at present.

It will increase air traffic movements to 264,000 planes landing and taking off every year, compared with the current 241,000.

Reacting to the news, Stansted's managing director, Stewart Wingate said: “We are naturally delighted that the secretaries of state have granted permission for the next phase of growth at Stansted.

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“This secures our future up to 35 million passengers a year.

“We will now be studying the full detail of the decision, including the independent planning inspector's report before commenting further.

“What we can say today though is that this is clearly great news for passengers and for businesses, located in the local community or across the wider region.”

Stansted has recently lodged applications to build a second runway - a public inquiry into this mammoth project is due to start next spring.

Suffolk has seen growing numbers of noisy airliners flying over the county in the past few years, the boom fuelled by cheap flights to a wide variety of destinations.

Communities living under flightpaths have become frustrated at the noise, and are concerned that growth of Stansted airport - both expansion of the use of its existing runway and the possible creation of a second - will exacerbate the problem.

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) described today's decision by government to approve an increase in Stansted's permitted passenger throughput as “entirely predictable, cynical and unjustified”.

SSE has already referred the matter to its legal advisors and says there may well be scope for legal challenge.

Chairman Peter Sanders said: “Given the government's gung ho approach to airport expansion, we always knew that the dice were loaded in favour of BAA, not least since the government wouldn't want to see the policies set down in its Air Transport White Paper fall at the first hurdle.

“Nevertheless, it beggars belief that there has been such a cynical disregard for the evidence presented to last year's inquiry.

“BAA failed to bring forward any direct evidence even to support an economic case for its application. Today's decision is wholly unjustified on the basis of the evidence.

“However, the government's determination to approve this application could prove its undoing.

“The flaws in the process and the rationale given by the government in reaching its decision may well provide scope for challenge. That is why we are seeking advice from our legal advisors. We have six weeks to decide whether to appeal.”

There was one piece of good news for residents in the conditions imposed upon BAA as part of the approval - the inspector has taken on board SSE's recommendation for a reduction in the number of “non commercial” flights at Stansted.

Last year there were a staggering 17,000 such flights mostly involving noisy business jets and the repositioning of aircraft at night. A limit of 10,000 will apply in future.

Peter Lockley, head of transport at wildlife and conservation body WWF-UK, said: “The timing of this decision is baffling - the government has just received compelling advice from their own experts that the UK must reduce its emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 in order to tackle climate change, and this recommendation explicitly included aviation.

“Emissions can only increase as a result of airport expansion, so it is clear that different government departments are pursuing incompatible policies.

“The UK cannot expect to be taken seriously as a leader against climate change if this decision is allowed to stand.”

Aviation Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “There is an urgent need for additional runway capacity in the south east.

“We were clear in the Aviation White Paper that the first priority was to make best use of the existing runways, including using the remaining capacity at Stansted.

“We recognise that there have been strong views expressed about Stansted's expansion and all views were given the chance to be heard at the public inquiry.

“Ministers thought long and hard about the case before making their decision to allow an increase of a little under ten per cent in the maximum permitted number of flights to and from the airport from 241,000 to 264,000 air traffic movements a year. Their reasons are set out clearly in the decision letter.

“Air travel is essential to the United Kingdom's economy and to our continued prosperity.

“The aviation industry directly employs 200,000 people with a further 600,000 jobs supported indirectly.”

Are you pleased or angry that Stansted will be allowed to expand? Do we really need to fly more? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail