What happened to our democracy?

So Stansted Airport expansion has been given the go-ahead and the rate payers of Uttlesford are facing a huge bill for costs. Strangely, for a Green, I’m not worried about the airport; I’m pretty sure it will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory: it will take years for the aviation industry to recover from the ongoing covid pandemic; the government’s promise to reduce CO2 emissions by 78% by 2035, including aviation and shipping, will have been passed into law; COP 26 will hopefully have delivered some actions which have a chance of saving us and it’ll be a long time before the aviation sector will be able to invest in electric or hydrogen technologies and phase out its existing fleets.

I will not mourn the passing of hen nights in Prague, stag nights in Ibiza or vanity weddings in the Seychelles. They have racked up an appalling legacy for our children to clean up, and we have excellent pubs, restaurants and wedding venues on our doorstep.

What does concern me, though, is how the executive and senior officers of Uttlesford disregarded the unanimous will of its elected members to reject the application by MAG. Who has the right to overturn democracy like that? And in doing so, to land the public with such a massive bill for costs!

I remember being very concerned at the planning meeting in January 2019 by the report by the Director of Public Services, Roger Harborough. He made no reference to the climate catastrophe that we face and no reference to CO2 emissions, which put public health, our economy and all our futures at risk.

His Environmental Statement apparently ‘demonstrated that there would be negligible impact from the proposals’. Paragraph after paragraph dismissed any environmental concerns. His report claimed that the ‘proposal is a sustainable form of development in line with National Planning Policy Framework 2019’, despite the fact that the framework clearly sets environmental objectives to ‘minimise waste and pollution, mitigate climate change, and move to a low carbon economy.’

My father spent his life in the civil service. As minister followed minister, Labour and Tory, his role was to give balanced, impartial advice so that the manifestos of each government could be put into law. Civil service documents explored the pros and cons of each option, ‘on the one hand…. and on the other…’ Then left it to the elected politicians to take the decision according to the will of the people who voted for them.

Is that no longer how it works? The report presented to the councillors at the planning meeting did no such thing. No wonder: as a one sided document it had no credibility. But worse has happened since. The UDC executive and officers abandoned any attempt to defend the committee’s refusal of planning permission at the inquiry. No attempt to argue that climate change and air quality were ‘material considerations’.

That is what worries me. It feels like an appalling abuse of our precious democracy. If ever an inquiry was needed, this is it and those responsible need to be held to account.


Edward Gildea June 2021


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