The House of Commons Transport Committee has just published its report on the Airports National Policy Statement. It states that additional safeguards are needed to ensure that the interests of passengers are protected, and the adverse environmental, social and health impacts on affected communities are addressed. These include: air quality, surface access, regional connectivity, scheme costs and airport charges, noise, community impacts and compensation and resource and waste management.
One of the report's recommendations is that Heathrow Airport Limited's scheme be tested by the Civil Aviation Authority, at an early stage in the Development Consent Order (DCO) process, to ensure it is both affordable and financeable. If the test shows that the scheme has no realistic prospect of being built, the planning process should be halted. The report does not say at what stage this should take place in the DCO process, but this would logically be during the pre-application consultation stage.
If this test is applied and the scheme is found to be unaffordable and unfinanceable, it would result in significant delays whilst a new scheme is worked up. It may also require a revised National Policy Statement (NPS). Given the Transport Committee acknowledges that Heathrow is the preferred location for airport expansion in the South East it's surely appropriate that both options for expanding Heathrow should be included in the NPS to provide flexibility and a fall-back position?
Why hasn’t the Transport Committee recommended this approach? The report states: "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.”
The draft NPS is both developer and site specific, which is a first of a NPS. Given the history of expansion at Heathrow, it is surely prudent to provide for other options and facilitate flexibly?
We recommend that, at an appropriate early stage of the DCO planning process, the Government’s preferred scheme be tested by the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure it is both affordable and financeable. Such as test should offer an opportunity to halt the planning process if it is evident that the proposed scheme has no realistic prospect of being built