800: Airports NPS voted through as tidal lagoon loses support
Today’s entry reports on two significant infrastructure news stories from the last 24 hours.
Airports National Policy Statement
At 10pm last night, following a four-hour debate, the House of Commons voted 415 to 119 in favour of approving the Airports National Policy Statement, which is essentially concerned with endorsing the need for a new runway at Heathrow Airport.
Although it is the first time a division has taken place on a National Policy Statement (NPS), the margin was a comfortable one. 95 Labour, 11 Liberal Democrat, four Plaid Cymru, one Green and eight Conservative MPs (those for Chelsea and Fulham, Chipping Barnet, Harrow East, Hendon, Putney, Richmond Park, Southend West and Windsor) made up the no lobby. The MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip was in Afghanistan. More Labour MPs voted in favour than against, despite the official line being against (albeit with a free vote).
This morning the NPS was ‘designated’ by the Secretary of State for Transport (like the ‘adoption’ of a local plan), kicking off a six-week period for initiating legal challenges. Legal challenges (by way of judicial review) are expected from various environmental groups and local authorities near the airport as well as the Mayor of London. It remains to be seen how much the endorsement of Parliament insulates the NPS from challenge.
There must be a statutory consultation exercise before Heathrow Airport can make an actual application to build and operate the runway (which could happen before the NPS legal challenges have been fully dealt with). The application process itself takes 16-18 months and then there will be another legal challenge period for the decision on the application. By my calculations that is about four years before construction can start, although some of the periods could overlap.
Swansea tidal lagoon
Earlier yesterday the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark MP made a statement in parliament about the Swansea tidal lagoon project. Followers of the Planning Act 2008 regime will know that this was awarded a development consent order (DCO) just over three years ago in June 2015.
The statement said that the government was not prepared to commit consumer or taxpayer funds to the project. It would be 2-3 times more expensive than nuclear or offshore wind for generating electricity, would only generate 28 jobs, and would only save 5% of the costs of future tidal energy schemes, according to the statement. This is despite a review from Charles Hendry, former energy minster, concluding in January 2017 that the project should be supported.
The project could still go ahead without taxpayer funds but is unlikely to do so. Notably, although it has been granted a DCO it has not yet been given a marine licence by Natural Resources Wales, despite the application for that having been made in February 2014.
This and other projects such as Hinkley Point C demonstrate that funding is often more important and difficult to secure than development consent, which is itself not a trivial matter.