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Aviation industry clutches at straws in London Plan hearing

AEF was represented at the ‘Examination in Public’ of the London Plan at City Hall on Friday 10th September.

The London Plan is the spatial strategy for London and one of the matters in the Plan is aviation policy. See London plan web site for more information.

Since the draft of the London Pan was published for consultation, there has been a dramatic change in policy. In the draft Plan, mayor Boris Johnson was opposing the government’s policy for a third runway at Heathrow. Now the Plan can signal support for the Coalition’s policy. There was, however plenty to debate and considerable disagreement about the policies and supporting text.

The aviation industry and its supporters wanted the policy changed to simply recognise the government’s new policy. However, AEF and others wanted the Mayor‘s reasons for opposing Heathrow expansion – particularly noise and air pollution – to be retained as explicit statements in the Plan. The reason being that should there are various forms of expansion still possible within the parameters of the government’s announcement and it is important for the Plan to provide context for the general issue of expansion. It also needs to recognise that the lifetime of the London Plan will be longer than that of the coalition government and thus, possibly, the present policy on Heathrow.  Noise and air pollution are also issues around City airport and Biggin Hill, where there is no government policy on expansion or lack of.

While the Mayor opposes expansion at Heathrow, the draft policy says “ [the Mayor] does recognise the need for additional runway capacity in the south-east of England.” AEF considers this a gratuitous statement since the Mayor has no responsibility for SE England, only for London. Furthermore, it is a very dubious assertion. There is a large amount of unused runway capacity in the SE and there would need to be detailed studies to show why this is all unusable and that new runways are needed. The aviation industry and its supporters, having lost the battle on Heathrow expansion, were desperate to keep at least this statement in the Plan.

Some of the industry and business representatives wanted general statements about the economic benefits of air travel (as opposed to specific benefits of Heathrow expansion) to be written into the Plan. AEF opposed this on the grounds that the economic benefits of aviation in general are irrelevant to the London Plan. It noted that economic benefits for London could be argued for roads, railways, water, electricity, etc and there was no reason to single out aviation for special mention.

There was also considerable debate about ‘surface access’, that is the means of getting to and from airports. NGOs and local authorities were adamant that proposed improvements to public transport, such as Crossrail and Railtrack, were needed, irrespective of expansion. It was noted that even without a new runway and thus no (significant) increase in flight numbers, there could still be a considerable increase in passengers due to larger and more fully filled planes.