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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Planning Act 2008 / 773: Government issues revised Airports National Policy Statement

Today’s entry reports on latest developments on the proposed Airports National Policy Statement.

Background

A year ago today, the Government announced that it endorsed the Airports Commission’s recommended new runway option of a third, north-western, runway at Heathrow Airport.

Then, on 2 February this year, a draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) was published for consultation. The consultation ran until May, and the consultation document said that updated passenger forecasts would be provided before the end of the consultation so that they could be taken into account in responses. The election intervened and the forecasts were not published in time. Then, thanks to a mandate from the High Court, in July the Government published a revised Air Quality Plan to deal with excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide more firmly than before.

On 7 September, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP announced that a further consultation on the NPS on passenger forecasts and air quality in particular would be held later in the year. Yesterday, that further consultation was launched.

Yesterday’s documents

Yesterday, the Government didn’t just publish a supplement to its previous consultation, but replaced virtually every document previously published, including the draft NPS itself. Using a helpful change log, I count 160 paragraphs that have been added to the NPS or amended, so quite a comprehensive change.

The revised NPS can be found here. The consultation runs until 19 December 2017. Meanwhile, the Transport Select Committee, which had until 20 July to report on the previous draft, now has until 23 March 2018 to report on this one.

So what are the implications of the revised passenger forecasts and air quality plan?

The implications of the first are that four of the five London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, City and Stansted) are expected to be full by 2025 rather than the previous figure of 2029 (it doesn’t say which the non-full one is), and all five by the mid-2030s.

The implications of the second are that the tighter proposals in the new air quality plan could mean earlier achievement of legal air quality levels, but the increased passenger numbers could cause a greater impact than before. That makes Heathrow expansion slowing down compliance more likely, unless compliance has already been achieved, in which case Heathrow must occupy the headroom between compliance and the limit. A ‘2017 Plan Update to Air Quality Re-analysis‘ published yesterday says:

‘The risk of impact [of the Heathrow North-Western Runway] on compliance [with legal air quality levels] is high up to 2029 since the option potentially impacts on compliance in central London and exists whether or not the Government’s 2017 Plan actions are fully implemented. From 2030 onwards, the risk falls to medium.’

Today’s Times lead story alleges that the latest figures now show Gatwick to be more economically beneficial than Heathrow, although the Government disputes this.

The Transport Select Committee is charged with conducting the parliamentary scrutiny side of the NPS, and had been given until 20 July to do so for the previous draft. It has been reconstituted since the election and has now been given until 23 March 2018 to complete its scrutiny of the new draft. Hearings are expected in December and January.

The Government has also published an analysis of the 72,279 responses to the consultation on the first draft of the NPS. By my calculations that is the largest ever response to a planning-related consultation. Having said that, 58,277 of the responses were as a result of two pro-Heathrow campaigns, Back Heathrow and Your Heathrow.

So, the NPS consultation bandwagon rolls on, with the public consultation ending seven months after the first one and the parliamentary scrutiny ending eight months later. Still taxiing rather than taking off.

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