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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 17:48 GMT
Government defeat over airport plans
Stansted protests
There is fierce local opposition to plans for new runways
The government has suffered a defeat in the High Court over its plans to expand airports in the South East of England.

Essex County Council, Medway Council, Kent County Council and local residents succeeded in a judicial review over the government's consultation process on the issue.

They had challenged a government decision, based on a legal agreement made in 1979, not to consider Gatwick airport in Sussex as one of the airports that might be expanded in the near future.

Instead, the expansion proposals included building up to three new runways at Stansted airport in Essex and a new airport at Cliffe on the Thames Estuary in Kent.

Gatwick airport
A 1979 agreement bars expansion at Gatwick

Mr Justice Maurice Kay, sitting in London, decided to quash the order excluding Gatwick rather than overturn the consultation exercise as a whole.

He said it was now up to the transport secretary how to complete the consultation process, which had been due to end on 30 November.

He also gave the government leave to appeal against the decision, describing the case as one of "considerable importance".

A Department for Transport spokesman said after the ruling: "We will examine carefully what the judge has said.

"We have taken steps today to ensure we can appeal (if we wish to do so)."

Cliffe marshes, Kent
A new airport could be built at Cliffe in Kent

The judge ruled the 1979 agreement barring any new runways at Gatwick until 2019 was not a basis for excluding the airport from the consultation process.

Kent and Essex would "probably and legitimately" want to advocate Gatwick as an alternative later on, he said.

He also took into account concerns raised by Kent and Medway councils about planning restrictions at the Cliffe site because of its environmental importance.

Speaking after the hearing, Neil Matthewson, vice chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign said "many thousands of people" had relied upon the 1979 agreement

However, he added: "The government can still decide not to expand Gatwick even if it has to include Gatwick options in the consultation process."

Available capacity

Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, said he hoped the government would now extend the consultation period.

He said the action had not been motivated by a wish to see Gatwick bear the brunt of the development.

He added: "However, we believe that 95% of demand in the South East up to 2015 could be met through making maximum use of all available capacity and it is important that all options should be included in a meaningful, comprehensive review."

The judge also ordered the transport secretary to pay full legal costs to Kent and Medway Councils.

The minister must also pay half the legal costs of Essex County Council and the Stop Stansted campaign, whose arguments were successful to a limited extent.

The BBC's Simon Montague
"Whichever airports are chosen that is bound to cause even more protests"

Click here to go to Essex

Click here to go to Kent
See also:

13 Nov 02 | England
05 Nov 02 | England
29 Sep 02 | England
12 Sep 02 | England
23 Jul 02 | Politics
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