The county councils of Essex and Hertfordshire, together with the district councils of Uttlesford, North Hertfordshire and East Hertfordshire, have lodged leave to seek a judicial review.
The principle points of the challenge are:
- The wide spaced runway at Stansted, and the alignment of the extension at London Luton airport set out in the White Paper and shown on plans in it are too specific: the White Paper as drafted effectively circumvents the statutory planning processes and the Environmental Impact assessment required by European legislation.
- Funding and viability: at present neither the Government nor BAA know how the airport development and associated infrastructure is to be funded. This is fundamental to the viability of the airport development and cannot be seen as a later exercise. The development will cause unnecessary blight if it is subsequently proven not to be viable.
- At Luton the runway proposal in the White Paper is not one in the consultation paper and has therefore emerged without any public consultation.
In the first step of the legal challenge process, the councils wrote to the secretary of state for transport raising concerns over the legality of some aspects of the paper. In their response, the Department for Transport rejects the councils' concerns, leaving no option but to progress a legal challenge.
Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex CCsaid: 'Airports in the UK have a history of creeping expansion. We are being asked to accept a fourfold increase in the capacity of Stansted. This is not acceptable and it stretches credulity that we be expected to accept a location of a second runway that would give the airport the footprint and hence the potential capacity to be the world's largest airport.'
Robert Ellis, leader of Hertfordshire CC added: 'We believe the white paper is fundamentally flawed. There is still no robust case for new runways in the South East. The environmental implications of airport development have consistently been underestimated, yet the Government is rushing into decisions which will irrevocably change the face of this part of England.
'The White Paper's support for the new runway pre-empts the established planning process which would deal intelligently with expansion proposals through a fully accountable process. At Luton, the extension of the runway has not been consulted on at all.
'Our legal challenge will explore just how much local accountability remains in the UK planning system. '
Essex CC successfully mounted a legal challenge last year over the exclusion of Gatwick Airport from earlier deliberations on airport expansion in the southeast.