Government green light for Stansted expansion

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The Independent Online

The Government today backed plans to allow the expansion of Stansted Airport to handle an extra 10 million passengers a year.

In a move likely to anger environmentalists, Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon granted permission for the airport to increase the number of flights from 241,000 to 264,000 and raise the number of passengers from 25 million to 35 million.

He made the announcement, changing Stansted's planning conditions, in a written statement to Parliament.

Planning permission for the expansion was originally refused on grounds of noise and environmental concerns by Uttlesford District Council in November 2006.

But the Government today overruled the council following an appeal by airport operator BAA.

Stansted's managing director, Stewart Wingate, said the decision, taken by Mr Hoon and Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears, was "great news" for passengers.

He said: "We are naturally delighted that the Secretaries of State have granted permission for the next phase of growth at Stansted.

"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."

A letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government to BAA's lawyers, setting out the reasons for the change in the planning conditions, said ministers found the impact on health caused by air pollution was "likely to be very small".

It added: "They agree that there is evidence that the proposal would deliver large direct economic benefits, although they accept that the evidence does not reliably quantify this."

But the letter said that nothing in their conclusions should be taken as "an expression of a view on the need for, or acceptability of" a future second runway at Stansted which is part of BAA's long-term plan for the airport.

Matthew Knowles, from the Society of British Aerospace Companies, said: "This is a welcome recognition of the progress that the aviation industry has made in further reducing its impact on the environment.

"We have listened to the concerns of the public on these issues and the industry is delivering for the benefit of passengers and local residents alike.

"Noise from aircraft is down 75 per cent over the last 30 years and an aircraft's fuel burn, and therefore carbon dioxide emissions, has been cut by 70 per cent over the last 50 years.

"The industry has also set itself the target for a further 50 per cent cut in both noise and CO2 emissions from 2000 levels by 2020."

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said: "This is further evidence that the Government is in the pocket of the aviation industry.

"It shows the gaping void between its environmental rhetoric and reality.

"Ministers like to talk green, but their actions show they are only too willing to increase carbon emissions.

"This is particularly bad news for people living near Stansted, who seemingly do not count in the Government's reckoning.

"This is the first major decision by Geoff Hoon as Transport Secretary and it clearly shows that he is no friend of the environment."