Committee members in jaws of dilemma over Stansted expansion

January 24, 2020 12:07 AM
By Cllr Alan Dean in The Walden Local

In November 2018 Uttlesford's planning committee under the Conservative administration met to consider Stansted Airport's application to increase their annual passenger numbers from 35 to 43 million.

The meeting was a disgrace. It was conducted in a way that left the public believing that the decision to approve was rigged. A majority of the committee sat in silence or near silence throughout the meeting; they failed totally to justify their vote for approval.

I raised a question about existing airport infrastructure that allegedly had not been given planning permission. I was promised by the then chairman that the issue would be addressed later in the meeting - that answers would be given. No answers were ever given. The matter was ignored. The chairman seemed so eager to get home by teatime that he forced through a vote prematurely, leaving challenges and questions unanswered. The committee left all members of the public aghast.

In my 32 years as a Member of Uttlesford District Council, I had never knowingly witnessed a worse charade of undemocratic unaccountability on such an important issue. The applicant and the public deserved better.

And on Friday January 24th a new committee will revisit this contentious issue. I wish to implore the Committee and its supporting Officers to conduct this continuing important business rigorously, transparently and in a professional way.

I do not wish to see climate change and other issues in the officers' report taken as read and not debated. I will be angry if matters raised by consultees are ignored. All questions and challenges really must be addressed in a respectful and thorough manner. I would like to be assured that someone has logged the issues raised at meetings and in correspondence to ensure that they are well and truly explained and addressed.

The public must be able to see that democracy is being done; that there is some clear rationale for why decisions are reached.

The Council has a responsibility to have regard for the negative impact of aviation on the lives of people, and biodiversity, on a global scale.

I sympathise with the planning committee's dilemma. The Council has twice voted to take action and to promote action by others to address the Climate Emergency. And yet their officers are telling them that they can pay no regard to aviation's carbon emissions that are helping to destroy the planet, its human life, its wildlife, its plant-life.

So the committee members find themselves in the jaws of a moral and practical dilemma. They are up against an insincere and apparently hypocritical central government that both dithers and then acts in the opposite direction from what is needed.

Will Uttlesford District Council take the line that it is always someone else's responsibility to save the planet and mankind from self-inflicted destruction? I hope that officers, but especially committee members, will discuss this matter thoroughly in public, so as to satisfy local people that they are doing the right thing for the climate emergency.

If business cannot be completed at the meeting on Friday, the meeting should be adjourned while challenges are investigated; while professional advice is obtained; until committee members are satisfied that they are armed with the evidence that allows them to be able to say "we did our best and we justified our decisions".

Cllr Alan Dean

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Alan Dean