Meanwhile, the Transport Committee of MPs was appointed to provide official parliamentary scrutiny of the NPS and, sooner than we’d expected, launched an inquiry with just a four-week period for submitting evidence. AEF sent in written evidence and had been called to act as witness at an oral evidence session due to take place on 8th May.
On April 18th, Theresa May made the announcement that a general election would take place on 8th June. So, what does this mean for aviation?
The Transport Committee was dissolved as a result of the General Election announcement, automatically closing its inquiries. In addition to its official role in considering the NPS for Heathrow, the committee had been holding an inquiry into airspace modernisation and was due to be part of a group of parliamentary committees considering the air quality challenge. It will be up to the new committee, once reconstituted, whether they pick up where the inquiries left off, or start anew.
The deadline for the public consultation on the NPS meanwhile – 25th May – remains unchanged (as does the deadline for the airspace and noise consultation). The parliament vote on the NPS for Heathrow had been anticipated to take place anywhere between autumn this year and early 2018. Whether the June election will impact where in this timeframe the vote will fall is likely to depend to some extent on the election outcome.
Before its dissolution on 3rd May, the EAC released a number of papers, including the Government’s response to its follow-up report on the Airports Commission recommendations. There were no great surprises in the Government’s response, and the lack of any strategy on aviation’s climate change impact was openly acknowledged. In a comment following the release of the Government’s response, Mary Creagh, chair of the EAC, stated that ministers “have no national plan for air pollution, and their carbon calculations are a fantasy.”
Without a legal air quality plan, the NPS for Heathrow is premature, we have argued, and creating headroom for the extra pollution associated with a third runway in an area already failing to meet legal air quality limits will be – to put it mildly – extremely challenging.
The Government had been ordered by the courts to produce a new Air Quality Plan by 24th April. Following the General Election announcement, Government sought to delay publication until June, arguing that it was necessary to comply with election “purdah” rules limiting government announcements with political implications during the election period. The plan is likely to include controversial measures impacting drivers of diesel vehicles.
The High Court ordered a hearing, following the Government’s application, and concluded that the plan must in fact by published by 9th May. According to ClientEarth, the lawyers who have brought these proceedings against Government, “the judge agreed […] that this is a matter of public health, not politics”. The Government has confirmed that it will not appeal the High Court judgment and it is due to produce its air quality plan today.