868: First airport DCO is granted
Today’s entry reports on the granting of a Development Consent Order to redevelop Manston Airport.
The decision deadline was delayed twice and the inspectors recommended refusal but on 9 July 2020, one day before the latest deadline, the Secretary of State for Transport (in fact, Minister of State Andrew Stephenson, because Grant Shapps had previously expressed support for the project), granted consent for the Manston Airport Development Consent Order.
This continues a bit of a trend of inspectors recommending refusal – five out of the last six ‘recommendation reports’ have recommended refusal, with three of them (A63, Norfolk Vanguard windfarm and now Manston), subsequently being granted by the Secretary of State, one (Thanet windfarm extension) being refused and one (Hornsea Three windfarm) getting a ‘minded to grant’ letter and a further decision delay. What does that mean, I wonder?
Here are the facts and figures:
- Project: a primarily cargo airport near Ramsgate in east Kent;
- Promoter: RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd;
- Application made: 17 July 2018;
- Four inspectors, Kelvin MacDonald (his sixth), Martin Broderick (his sixth), Jon Hockley (his first), Jonathan Manning (his first);
- 2074 relevant representations, very high;
- 198 written representations, very high;
- 551 questions in the first round, high;
- two compulsory acquisition hearings, eight issue specific hearings and four open floor hearings – high;
- four Local Impact Reports, from Kent, Thanet, Dover and Canterbury;
- examination exactly six months, recommendation nine days over three months, decision nearly nine months, ie nearly six months late;
- 723 days from application to decision, just under two years, the third longest to get consent; and
- 2,005 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations), very high.
As usual there are some notes from the decision letter.
As the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) had been struck down (at least until the Supreme Court considers it later this year), and in any event only applied directly to a third runway at Heathrow, the decision was taken in the absence of a relevant NPS.
The inspectors were not convinced by the need case – although assessed need on the basis of what it said in the now revoked ANPS – but the government is positively effusive about it.
The Secretary of State criticises the inspectors for accepting at face value statutory undertakers who said the project would cause serious detriment to their undertaking, and also for reaching that conclusion when the undertakers didn’t say anything – the Secretary of State says that it is for him to take a view on the seriousness of the detriment. In the event he didn’t consider serious detriment would be caused to any of the undertakers and granted compulsory acquisition rights over all of their land.
Some Crown land had not been agreed by the relevant Crown authority that it could be compulsorily acquired by the decision date and so it was excluded from compulsory purchase powers.
Climate change effects weighed against the decision but were not enough, in combination with other adverse impacts, to outweigh the benefits. The number of flights is capped at about 26,000 per year – by comparison Heathrow had 475,000 in 2019.
On funding, the government helpfully
‘Accepts … that no project will have secured full funding to cover project costs until there is certainty as to the decision on whether to grant the DCO’.
Due to their need conclusions, the inspectors recommended that compulsory acquisition powers not be granted (for the remaining 1% or so of the relevant land, the applicant having dramatically bought the airport on the last day of the examination) although the government says that it only partially quoted relevant guidance and that
‘There is nothing in paragraph 25 [of the guidance] that says that the Applicant must demonstrate that negotiations to acquire by agreement have continued through the full examination period’.
– useful for all to know.
The DCO ‘abrogates’ (ie cancels) an old s106 agreement, useful to know this can be done; I think the only other DCO to do any abrogating is the Hinkley nuclear power one, which partly abrogates an agreement if a condition, which I don’t think happened, was met.
It has some flexible construction powers in an area to the north of the airport where only maximum floorspace and heights are specified.
This is the 86th DCO to be granted. Next Friday 17 July 2020 sees a bumper crop of three highway DCO applications due to be decided on the same day (A303 Stonehenge, A303 Sparkford and A19 Downhill Lane). The last triple decision day on 1 June 2020 didn’t go that well with only one being decided on the day, and that was a refusal.