A special planning meeting will be held next month to look at renewed plans for expanding Rochester Airport – after Medway Council backed out of a judicial review into the controversial scheme.
The council’s planning committee approved the £4m scheme – which includes a new concrete runway and is designed to free up land for a new business park – at the beginning of last year, but the plan was stalled when opponents called for a judicial review into the decision.
The case was heard in November, but adjourned when a judge called for more detailed reports on noise pollution, and the council has now taken the unusual step of quashing its original decision to approve plans in order to avoid the review and start again.
Leading opponent to the plans Bill McLennan, of Wilson Avenue, explained that a long debate had ensued at the first hearing surrounding his own aviation noise expert’s report.
He said: “The judge said he’d looked at all the arguments and they were very complex; it would be impossible to hear in one day and adjourned until April.
“I was fine with that. However, just before Christmas, Medway Council called our solicitors and said they wanted to settle out of court.
"They said they wanted to concede on argument 4 (surrounding noise) which is basically admitting we were right.
“We said, ‘actually we’re not interested in settling’. They paid our £35,000 costs, and said they’d quash the planning application, pay costs, and concede argument 4 – that noise wouldn’t be unobjectionable.”
He added: “It’s very unusual for a local authority to quash their own application.”
Medway Council insists it has decided to start again “in the interests of speeding up the process and to avoid further cost to the taxpayer” and that the redetermined application will include “all available noise reports for councillors to consider”.
Council leader Alan Jarrett added: “It is not in anyone’s interest to further delay this process, not least the taxpayer who would have had to pick up the bill.
"The planning committee will be asked to look at the application again, considering all the evidence that is before them.
“We are simply speeding the process up. It is also vital that, given the recent boost by the Chancellor with Enterprise Zone status, we start to move on this project, if it is approved, as we want Rochester Airport to be a place where companies want to come and create local jobs for local people.”
But opponents say it’s wrong to blame them for wasted costs, as the scheme itself is a ‘vanity project’ and a waste of money.
“It’s the wrong priority,” said Medway Labour leader Vince Maple.
“I’ve always opposed the proposal – we think it’s the most expensive bit of tarmac in the council authority, bearing in mind we’ve got hundreds of potholes that need fixing.”
A date for the special planning meeting has yet to be fixed.