1.Airport expansion in the South-East of England has been debated for decades. Having been endorsed by the then Labour Government in 2009, support for a previous third runway proposal at Heathrow was withdrawn by the Coalition Government following the 2010 General Election. In September 2012, the Coalition Government set up the Airports Commission to examine what was needed to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub and evaluate how the need for additional capacity should be met in the short-, medium- and long-term. In its final report in July 2015 it found three options were viable: a Northwest Runway at Heathrow (NWR), an extended northern runway at Heathrow (ENR) and a second runway at Gatwick Airport. It concluded that the proposal for a NWR was the best option, recommending “the delivery of the [NWR plan] in its entirety”. The Airports Commission urged the Government “to take an early decision to ensure that new capacity is put in place as soon as possible.”
2.The Government announced, in October 2016, that a NWR was its preferred option for delivering additional runway capacity. It said that a National Policy Statement (NPS), under the provisions of the Planning Act 2008, would be the basis for planning approval ahead of a NWR’s construction (Figure 1). In this process, Parliament approves an NPS before Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) makes an application for a development consent order (DCO). The application is considered by the Planning Inspectorate before the Secretary of State decides whether to grant a DCO. In short, and as the Secretary of State described, the NPS provides outline planning consent; it is Parliament deciding that, in principle, it is content that there should be a NWR at Heathrow airport.
Figure 1: The Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning Process
3.The DCO process considers the detailed design work, the specifications and the conditions set for any development by Government in the NPS. It is the role of the planning inspectorate to examine the application for a DCO and provide a report to the Secretary of State who will make the final decision. A DCO can cover several consents including planning permission, listed building consent, modification of regulations or planning conditions, temporary or permanent diversion of highways or creating the power to compulsorily acquire land required for the development. This combination of consents is “intended to ease bureaucracy and allow the developer to proceed more quickly.”
4.National Policy Statements (NPSs) make clear the Government’s objectives for the development of nationally significant infrastructure in a particular sector, setting out its policies and explaining the reasons for them. They are often generic but, where appropriate, can relate to specific locations to provide a clear framework for investment and planning decisions. NPSs can include any other policies or circumstances that ministers believe should be considered in decisions on infrastructure development. National Policy Statements are subject to public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny before being designated. Once designated they provide a framework within which the planning inspectorate can make recommendations to the Secretary of State
5.The Government published its initial draft Airports NPS and accompanying consultation documents in February 2017. Because of the 2017 General Election, however, parliamentary scrutiny of the NPS, and subsequently the Government’s timeline for parliamentary approval, was delayed. The Government relaunched public consultation on a revised draft Airports NPS (NPS) in October 2017. The draft sets out:
When designated, the Airports NPS will apply to any development consent application for a new NWR at Heathrow Airport. The policies in the Airports NPS will have effect in relation to the Government’s preferred scheme, having a runway length of at least 3,500m and enabling at least 260,000 additional air transport movements per annum. It will also have effect in relation to terminal infrastructure associated with the Heathrow NWR scheme and the reconfiguration of terminal facilities in the area between the two existing runways at Heathrow Airport. It will remain in place until it is withdrawn, amended or replaced.
6.The Airports NPS is different to other transport-related national policy statements considered by our predecessors in that it is scheme specific; not only does it identify a specific site but it details a specific scheme. The National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6) is the only other one to take a site-specific approach and it makes provision for applications for sites not listed in the NPS. No NPS has so far been scheme specific. It means that instead of setting out some general tests against which any application for development consent could be judged, the Airports NPS is a mix of general requirements and some detailed specifications pertaining only to the NWR scheme.
7.The 2008 Act provides for Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposed NPS by the relevant Select Committee. Having been appointed by the Liaison Committee, we launched our inquiry on the revised NPS on 1 November 2017. The terms of reference were published at the start of our inquiry and are in addition to those set by our predecessor Committee in February 2017. Our core task was to ensure that the Airports NPS could be used by the Secretary of State when judging any application for DCO. This includes ensuring that the supporting measures and approval conditions are sufficiently clear so that concerns that may emerge during the planning process can be addressed adequately.
8.We acknowledge that we have received evidence suggesting that there is a case for having an NPS that was either site specific or that was generic enough to allow applications from other airports in the South-East. We looked at the relative merits of having an Airports NPS framed in a more generic way (either as a site-specific NPS or one that covered any airport in the South-East) but, given the differences in views expressed in Committee, we found this was not a topic on which we could achieve consensus. We have looked at the Government’s policy as it is rather than consider what it might have been.
9.In conducting our inquiry, we drew on:
10.We are grateful to all those who took the time to make submissions and those who appeared before us and patiently answered our questions. All the evidence we have taken is listed at the end of this report and can be found on our website. Given the complex nature of the NWR scheme and the breadth of the evidence base supporting it, we have developed a series of annexes to support our report. It should be noted that the comparative analysis of the other shortlisted options was not conducted in the same level of detail as that completed for the NWR scheme but comparison has been provided where appropriate. It therefore does not follow that any criticisms or recommendations that we make about the NWR implies our approval of either of the other options.
1 For more information see: Heathrow expansion, Briefing Paper No , House of Commons Library, 22 January 2018
2 HC Deb, 2 November 2012, [commons written ministerial statement]
5 As amended by the .
6 For information regarding the planning process, see: Planning for National Significant Infrastructure Projects, Briefing Paper No , House of Commons Library, 17 July 2017
8 Airports Commission, Discussion Paper 07: Delivery of new runway capacity, July 2014, p 6
9 Airports Commission, Discussion Paper 07: Delivery of new runway capacity, July 2014, p 8
13 Department for Energy and Climate Change, National Policy Statements for energy infrastructure, June 2011
14 Transport Select Committee, Airports National Policy Statement inquiry launched, 1 November 2017
15 Transport Select Committee, Airports National Policy Statement inquiry launched, 22 February 2017
18 Transport Select Committee, , June 2017
19 Transport Select Committee, , March 2018
20 Transport Select Committee, , March 2018
Published: 23 March 2018