UK government opens consultations on Heathrow Airport expansion and airspace modernisation
Fri 3 Feb 2017 – The UK government has published a draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) that lays down the planning and decision-making framework for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and has opened it to a 16-week public consultation. The draft NPS sets out the measures that Heathrow will have to comply in order to get development consent for the airport expansion. These include noise insulation measures for homes and schools, above market value compensation for home owners having to make way for the new runway, mitigation of noise impacts and a commitment to no increase in airport-related road traffic. However, the NPS has been criticised by environmental groups for a lack of detail on how an expansion of air traffic sits with the UK’s climate change targets. The government has also announced separate proposals and a consultation on modernising UK airspace and managing aircraft noise. The proposals include setting up an independent aviation noise commission.
Following the government’s decision last October to support a third runway at Heathrow, the draft NPS sets out the reasons for the choice as well as the requirements the airport will have to meet in order to get development consent. At the same time as the public consultation, Parliament will also scrutinise the draft and a final NPS is expected to be laid before Parliament for debate and vote next winter.
“Aviation expansion is important for the UK both in boosting our economy and jobs, and promoting us on the world stage,” said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. “By backing the north-west runway at Heathrow and publishing our proposals, we are sending a clear signal that when we leave the EU, we are open for business.
“The NPS is a big step forward for what is one of the UK’s most important, major infrastructure projects. This is an important consultation and I encourage everybody to get involved across the country.”
Under the government’s proposals, Heathrow will have to put in place noise mitigation measures that include legally binding noise targets, periods of predictable respite and a ban of six-and-a-half hours on scheduled night flights. It will also be required to provide “a world-class package” of support for communities affected by the expansion, including noise insulation for homes and schools and improvements to public facilities.
To mitigate the already harmful effects of air quality around Heathrow, the airport will need to show how it can deliver on a commitment it has already made of no increase in airport-related road traffic, despite a forecasted sharp rise in air traffic as a result of the expansion, and more than half of passengers using public transport to access the airport.
The government’s decision to favour a third new runway at Heathrow follows acceptance of a final report by the Airports Commission in July 2015 that also shortlisted two other schemes: an extension of the existing north runway at Heathrow to provide dual use and a new second runway at Gatwick Airport. Since the Commission’s report, the government has undertaken further work, it says, on air quality, noise, carbon emissions and impacts on local communities.
The work on air quality is outlined in the government’s air quality re-analysis and an Appraisal of Sustainability. It says this has demonstrated that with the right mitigation, expansion is capable of taking place within legal limits.
The government says it agrees with the Commission’s assessment that a new runway is deliverable within the UK’s legal climate change obligations, following an appraisal by the Department for Transport. The Commission used two carbon policy scenarios in its analysis. The first was a ‘carbon capped’ scenario in which emissions from the aviation sector are limited according to the planning assumption of the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC), under which UK aviation CO2e emissions are no more than 37.5 million tonnes in 2050. The second was a ‘carbon traded’ scenario, in which emissions are traded as part of a global carbon market, allowing reductions to be made where they are most efficient across the global economy. While domestic aviation emissions are included in UK carbon budgets, those from international aviation have so far been excluded, but remain under review.
The NPS says that of the three schemes the Commission shortlisted, the Heathrow north-west runway would produce the highest carbon emissions in absolute terms, in part due to its greater additional connectivity potential, but was still deliverable within UK climate change obligations.
The Transport Secretary appeared before the EAC in November to answer questions from MPs on the environmental impacts of Heathrow expansion. In a follow-up letter to the committee, the minister said the government had not yet taken a view on whether to accept the CCC’s planning assumption and remained open “to considering all feasible measures to ensure that the aviation sector contributes fairly to UK emissions reductions.”
He added that measures were available to allow the planning assumption to be met under the forecasted higher traffic demand growth of 60% and work had begun on the government’s Aviation Strategy that would include a more detailed consideration of available policy measures to address the climate change impacts of aviation.
This drew a frosty response from EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP. “The government has said that Heathrow can be delivered within carbon limits. Yet this letter shows it has not yet decided what those international aviation emissions should be. This implies it is considering rejecting the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change,” she commented. “The government should set out its strategy to limit carbon emissions from international aviation before taking a final decision on Heathrow expansion. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse.”
Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director of the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), commented: “Despite repeated warnings from the government’s own advisers that it needs to be able to show that Heathrow expansion won’t compromise the Climate Change Act, there is no plan to even consider aviation emissions policy till later this year.”
James Beard, Climate Change Specialist at WWF-UK, said: “The NPS doesn’t contain any actual policy on climate change. The government claims a new runway can be delivered within climate goals, but without firm commitments and a credible plan this is merely wishful thinking. Its forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan must set out how emissions from the new runway will be dealt with before the NPS is finalised.”
Giving evidence before a Scottish Parliament committee this week, Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of industry representative body Airlines UK, said his members recognised that aviation growth had to go hand in hand with action to tackle carbon emissions and noted that UK aviation in recent years had been delivered without any increase in CO2 emissions.
“UK airlines have invested in more than 470 new aircraft since 2005, at a cost of over £37 billion [$46bn], helping the industry to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 million tonnes,” he said. “We are confident the actions being taken by the aviation industry, including improvements in engine technology, will continue to see emissions come down.”
Although welcoming the NPS launch, Airlines UK expressed concern over the cost of Heathrow expansion being passed on to airlines and passengers. The airport was already the most expensive hub in the world, it pointed out.
The government’s separate proposals and consultation on modernising UK airspace will look at how the number of aircraft entering and leaving airspace can be managed effectively through using the latest technology that would reduce the need for stacking and making flights more efficient and environmentally friendly. They also include draft guidance on how noise impacts should be assessed and used to inform decisions on airspace.
The consultation also includes proposals on the role of an Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise to be set up by the government. “The commission would build relationships between industry and communities and ensure an even fairer process for making changes to the use of airspace and flight paths,” says the government.
“These proposals will influence decisions taken later in the planning process for a north-west runway at Heathrow, including how local communities can have their say on airspace matters and how impacts on them are taken into account.”
The UK aviation industry has recently come together under ‘The sky’s the limit’ coalition to campaign for UK airspace modernisation, so has welcomed the announcement. The coalition says that without redesigning the UK’s network of flightpaths and airways, the airspace infrastructure would be unable to cope with forecasted traffic growth. Modernising airspace would also benefit the environment and communities, it claimed, through utilising better operating procedures that would allow aircraft to fly more directly and routes to be designed to avoid noise-sensitive areas or provide a more equitable spread of noise.
“Airspace modernisation will benefit the whole country and it is vital the government moves ahead at pace on this, separate from the process around designating a NPS for additional airport capacity in the south-east of England,” said Ed Anderson, Chairman of the UK Airport Operators Association, a coalition member.
AEF Director Tim Johnson said the proposals followed intense community pressure for the government to act to prevent significant airspace changes being implemented without either consultation or compensation for those affected on the ground.
“Communities who have been suffering the noise effects of aircraft flying down increasingly narrow corridors as a consequence of satellite navigation technology will welcome today’s proposals to take better account of local circumstances and engage more with those affected,” he said. “Communities will also be encouraged by the prospect of compensation for airspace changes, a call-in power for the Secretary of State to intervene where the impacts are likely to be significant, and a requirement to assess noise down to lower thresholds.”
He was hopeful an independent noise commission would provide “some fresh thinking” on the noise issue. However, he was concerned that its effectiveness could be limited if there was no requirement to deliver a noise reduction strategy, and without enforcement powers or the teeth to make binding recommendations.
“Noise levels around many airports are already too high, and are likely to get worse if the sector continues to expand. We urgently need a Government strategy for limiting noise to within levels that are safe for health,” he said. “It shouldn’t fall to members of the public to have to defend themselves against their local noise environment becoming intolerable.”
Responded Tim Alderslade of Airlines UK: “We know that airspace redesign can present major challenges for airports, and good community engagement will be a vital part of the process. That said, to ensure capacity can keep pace with demand, airspace modernisation is urgently required and without it, delays faced by passengers are likely to soar to 4 million minutes by 2030.
“However, airspace modernisation wouldn’t just increase capacity and help prevent such sustained delays. Flying more direct routes will also reduce fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions, lessening aviation’s impact on the climate and local air quality – and in the process seeing a substantial reduction in aviation emissions.”
Both consultations close on 25 May 2017.
The government has also announced it has granted planning permission for works at Heathrow Airport that when completed will enable full use of both existing runways. It says this does not allow for any increase in aircraft movements and should result in a fairer distribution of aircraft noise in built-up areas close to the airport.