A public inquiry into a proposed future increase in passenger numbers at Stansted Airport has got underway today.
The inquiry will be held online and is expected to last until the start of April.
Submissions will be heard on behalf of the Essex site's owners Manchester Airports Group and those opposing the increase including Uttlesford District Council and the lobby group Stop Stansted Expansion.
The inquiry is being held following an appeal by MAG against the refusal earlier this year by the council to allow expansion of the airport to 43 million passengers a year from its current permitted limit of 35m.
The number of passengers who used Stansted Airport in 2019
A year ago the council's planning committee voted to defy their own officers' and independent legal advice to reject a £35m mitigation package which would have rubber-stamped MAG's application – 14 months after the committee had approved the plans on the chairman's casting vote.
The application had been returned to the committee for further scrutiny after the group Residents for Uttlesford routed the previous Conservative administration at the May 2019 local elections.
The airport has pledged to achieve the rise in passenger numbers without increasing its permitted number of flights from the 274,000-a-year limit approved in 2008.
It also promised to reduce the noise footprint by 2028 to a level 15% smaller than that sanctioned in 2008.
Passenger numbers at Stansted have, of course, been devastated by the covid pandemic. But MAG says it has to plan for a future where passenger numbers return.
A spokesperson for MAG said: “London Stansted’s planning application followed extensive public engagement and set out how the airport could grow in a responsible and sustainable way, with no additional flights and a reduced noise limit. Throughout, the aim has been to provide clarity and certainty for local communities.
“UDC failed to provide any credible or substantiated reasons to justify refusing the application, while ignoring the clear advice it received from its own officers and expert legal advisors.
“We regret the time and cost that the appeal will involve for all parties, but with the planning inquiry starting this week we remain confident about our proposals and the benefits they will bring for the wider region, as set out in our evidence, and we look forward to presenting our case to the inspectors.”
In a statement Stop Stansted Expansion said: "If approved, Stansted would be permitted to expand to a similar size and scale to Gatwick, which is why we have fought these expansion proposals, tooth and nail, since they were first announced in June 2017.
We have fought these expansion proposals tooth and nail
"We all have a moral obligation to call a halt to ever-increasing aviation emissions, for the sake of future generations as well as for the sake of all other species with whom we share this planet, and SSE will do its utmost to fight for these local and wider environmental principles at the forthcoming Inquiry."
SSE Chairman Peter Sanders added: “In view of the timing of this Public Inquiry, at the height of a pandemic, SSE is participating under duress, but we have powerful, well-researched evidence to put before the Inquiry and we will do just that."