TOURISM in the east of England will be harmed by the ongoing delays surrounding the expansion of Stansted Airport, a leading firm has warned.

Visit East of England says Uttlesford Council’s delay in granting full planning permission to expand the airport could impact thousands of jobs and threaten the region’s chances of becoming an official Tourism Zone.

The council granted outline planning permission to Stansted bosses last November but the authority called the application back to its planning committee in June over fears the expansion will lead to added pollution in the area.

Visit East of England, which aims to promote and enhance tourism in East Anglia, has now called on the council to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

The firm’s executive director Pete Waters said: “Having given permission last autumn for the start of a £600m transformation programme, it is extremely disappointing that ten months on Uttlesford Council is no further forward on this issue and prefers instead to waste tax-payers’ money on political sport.

“‘The east of England is in a good position to submit a strong proposal to become a Tourism Zone but this move by the council sends completely the wrong message about the region’s commitment to growing the sector.

“It could also jeopardise future opportunities to bid for funding, at a time when the east of England needs to be doing everything it can to grow our economy.”

Back in June the government published details on a Tourism Sector Deal which will provide added funding to five regions of England to help boost tourism and visitor numbers.

Uttlesford Council leader John Lodge has rejected suggestions the authority is delaying the process and says he expects the expansion bid to be put before the planing committee before a judicial review is held in November.

He added: “We are disappointed Visit East of England has not approached us directly about this.

“It’s important to remember the last major application for the airport took three years to go through and ended in a public inquiry.

“This is never a quick process and we felt the previous administration had not looked at some aspects of this in enough detail.

“Having the country’s third largest airport forms a major part of our economy so of course we want to do all we can to help improve it and boost it further.”