934: What Bristol Airport can tell us about carbon assessments and other news
It is common knowledge that six DCO projects (A38 Derby Junction, M25 Junction 10, M25 Junction 28, M54 Link Road, and the MetroWest rail scheme) are being held up on carbon grounds (or, to use the Secretary of State’s not-at-all vague phraseology ‘to allow for further consideration of environmental matters’).
All of these projects were initially asked to provide information on the following:
- the carbon impact of the development; the implications, if any, of the development in relation to the Paris Agreement, the 2050 net zero target in the Climate Change Act 2008, and carbon budgets set under the 2008 Act; and, whether the increase in carbon emissions resulting from the development is so significant that it would have a material impact on the ability of the Government to meet its carbon reduction targets; and
- the direct, indirect and cumulative likely significant effects of the development on climate, including greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation.
Anyway, completely unrelatedly, there is some interesting commentary on how carbon should be assessed and how it factors in the planning balance from an Inspector’s recent decision to allow an appeal thereby granting planning permission (under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) for Bristol Airport to expand.
By way of introduction, the promoter’s case accepted that expansion of the airport would represent ‘around 0.22-0.28% of the 37.5 MtCO2/annum of the planning assumption related to the 4th and 5th carbon budgets… and between 0.29-0.34% of the CCC’s ‘balanced pathway’ assumption.’ Opponents argued that this would affect the government’s ability to meet its carbon reduction targets. The Inspector disagreed stating that the impact was limited and more importantly ‘it has to be assumed that the SoS will comply with the legal duty under the CCA [Climate Change Act]’. How would the Secretary of State comply even if an individual project makes reaching the target more difficult? The Inspector explains:
There are a number of current options and potential future approaches to assist in the achievement of this target. The main current options have been discussed above. It is true that there are problems and uncertainties associated with some approaches but, overall, there are a number of alternatives which may be used at the national level to address climate change. Additionally, the response to the climate change problem needs to be considered across a wide range of activities.
The Inspector also confirms that ‘advances in technology, to whatever extent they materialise and at whatever time, are one part of the Government’s approach to achieving Net Zero and should not be discounted, albeit it is recognised that there is uncertainty as to when this technology might be adopted commercially by airlines’.
The decision is also noteworthy in three other contexts relevant to DCO projects. First, it confirms that the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework and the 2018 ‘making best use of existing runways’ policy remains valid and is not outdated, nor superseded by, recent Net Zero-related policy announcements. No doubt this is welcome confirmation for Luton Airport and Gatwick (note the former, our client, launched a consultation this week).
Second, the Inspector gives limited weight to the Airports National Policy Statement – perhaps not unsurprising in this context given the policy itself says its important and relevant for airports in the South East.
Third, there was an attempt to argue WHO limits should be a substitute for current Air Quality Objectives for things like nitrogen dioxide, PM10 and PM2.5. The Inspector again appears to give short shrift to such standards stating that ‘given the international and national context it is not unreasonable to assume that something will come forward to fill the space.’
We will have to wait and see on whether any legal challenge to this decision is made, and if so, is successful.
Road pricing and interconnector issues abound
Ben Southwood of Policy Exchange has published ‘A New Deal for Drivers‘ , an interesting report on road pricing for UK roads. Readers will be interested to see the following timely suggestion for the National Networks National Policy Statement from Ben:
The Transport Decarbonisation Plan announced the review of the National Networks National Policy Statement, the primary planning policy applicable to new road projects. Government should use the opportunity to widen the scope of road user charges beyond river crossings. Indeed, amending the National Networks NPS to at least consider the need for any new or improved road proposals to entail road user charging is likely the fastest way to ensure its delivery.
Relatedly, my colleague and recent re-joiner Duncan O’Connor has noted that a recent Transport Select Committee report reaches the stark conclusion that there is no viable alternative to road pricing. Duncan says that given wider pressures road pricing seems inevitable.
Finally, Angus covered the curious decision to refuse development consent for the Aquind Interconnector in a previous blog– but little did we know that this was just the start of the UK’s interconnector issues. The French authorities have refused consent for a different interconnector citing Brexit uncertainties.