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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Planning Act 2008 / 750: Airports NPS consultation update

Today’s entry reports on the continuing consultation on the Airports National Policy Statement.

The Airports National Policy Statement was published on 2 February and there is a public consultation running on it until 25 May so we are 10/16 weeks through that. The main documents are the draft National Policy Statement itself, and the accompanying consultation document. This page has access to all the supporting documents.

The two main roles of a National Policy Statement (NPS) are to declare the level of need for a type of infrastructure and the impacts that should be assessed by the promoter of a project, the inspectors considering an application, and the government in making a decision. All this valuably increases the certainty of what sort of applications will be granted (or refused).

As well as simply inviting written responses by that date, the Department for Transport (DfT) has held a series of 20 consultation events at venues at various distances from Heathrow. This is partly because of a requirement in the Planning Act 2008 where a draft NPS suggests a particular site as suitable for development, in this case Heathrow Airport. In such a case the government must consult local authorities on how to publicise the NPS in the local area.

I attended the event in Hammersmith on 6 March. It was held in a large room at the town hall (see photo) with a series of display boards each dealing with separate issues such as the environment and community compensation. Hard copies of the draft NPS were not lying around but could be obtained on request, and relevant extracts were available on screens next to each display board.

A large number of DfT officials were on hand to answer questions, possibly outnumbering the members of the public in attendance. Lord Justice Sullivan spoke from a screen in the corner, welcoming any comments on the conduct of the consultation, as he has been given a role to oversee it. One display board, colour coded in blue rather than green, dealt with the parallel consultation on airspace change.

If I have a criticism of the consultation it is the consistency and accuracy of the headings for the documents. This is a consultation on the Airports NPS, whose title is ‘new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the south east of England’.

The hard copy consultation response document being handed out at the consultation event was headed ‘Runway consultation’. OK, but a bit narrower than the declared scope of the NPS. A ‘have your say’ document handed out at the event, however, was headed ‘Heathrow Northwest Runway Consultation’ and another said ‘Heathrow Expansion Proposal’. The website is headed ‘Heathrow expansion: draft Airports National Policy Statement’.

There is a nugget of seriousness here, because the document itself can’t make its mind up as to whether it is covering runway and other airport infrastructure in the south east, or just the expansion of Heathrow by means of a north-western runway. And while it’s fine to have a preferred option (in fact better to say you do if you in fact do), the titling of the documentation could be more neutral to be consistent with the government having an open mind on runway options as claimed at paragraph 4.12 of the consultation document.

Another issue worth mentioning is at paragraph 1.2 of the consultation document – a document on the impact of new passenger demand forecasts is to be issued during the consultation period, but early enough to allow it to be taken into account in responses. It hasn’t come out yet as far as I am aware and we’re nearly 2/3 of the way through. While you can never freeze everything while you have a consultation, introducing something important during a consultation isn’t ideal, although at least it has been signalled in the documentation. The draft new air quality strategy is also due by the end of this month, which may also have an effect.

Further consultation steps

The government is also nearing the end of a series of 13 invitation-only regional events, stretching from Newquay to Edinburgh. I think I have signed up for the London one but it was a slightly Kafkaesque process. The consultation website gives a number to ring; upon ringing the number, one is given an email address to contact. Upon contacting the email address one is given a website to apply to. Upon having one’s application accepted one then fills in a form requesting attendance at an event, including slightly worrying information such as next of kin contact details (and ‘Coutry’). I think I have jumped over all the hurdles and hope to visit ExCeL on 20 April without my next of kin being involved.

One last strand to the consultation is Parliamentary scrutiny. As has been the case for every draft NPS to date, the relevant select committee, in this case the Transport Select Committee, has been charged with conducting the scrutiny (the other possibility being the creation of a special-purpose committee).

The Select Committee invited written submissions until 24 March, and it is likely to invite representatives of organisations it thinks will be useful to hear oral evidence from subsequently, as that is what has happened with other draft NPSs, indeed I attended one such session on the National Networks NPS. 60 submissions have been made and can be found here.

The Select Committee will eventually issue a report on the draft NPS, and that, together with the consultation responses, will be considered by the DfT who will issue a final draft later this year. There have been significant changes to previous draft NPSs, but once the final draft comes out that is pretty much it.

Only once the final draft has been ‘designated’, or adopted by the government, is it possible to challenge it (or indeed the process leading up to it) in the courts. This was recently demonstrated in a challenge to the October 2016 decision to prefer Heathrow, which was rejected because it related to an as yet undesignated NPS, even though the draft NPS had not been published at that point. See this blog entry for more details.

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