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Comment from AEF on NPS reconsultation

24th October, 2017


Contact: Tim Johnson// // 07710 381742

Reopening of NPS for Heathrow: overhaul of evidence as Airports Commission data discredited  

The Department for Transport has today reopened its consultation on the draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) which sets out the Government’s case for a third runway at Heathrow, having been advised by Sir Jeremy Sullivan – appointed to provide independent oversight of the consultation process – that the public should have a say on crucial documents not made available at the time of the original consultation which closed in May, namely how to manage air quality and revised passenger forecasts.

Ministers had previously indicated that these two issues would require a short consultation that wouldn’t impact on the announced timetable for delivery, with a vote by MPs expected in the first half of next year. In fact, the consultation presents new evidence on a wide range of key impacts including new forecasts of noise impacts, CO2 emissions, air pollution and the impacts of expansion on other UK airports. Such a major revision at this stage reinforces that the NPS as drafted is not fit for purpose, and that significant challenges remains.

But neither is the need for further consultation a surprise. We have been arguing that the NPS as laid before parliament prior to the general election, fails to show how a third runway at Heathrow will be compatible with legal limits on air quality and climate change, and that the lack of information on future flight paths makes it impossible to know accurately what the noise impacts will be (see AEF briefings).

Reacting to the launch, AEF’s Deputy Director Cait Hewitt said:

The scale of this reconsultation highlights that the Airports Commission work cannot be relied upon and the Government’s case for Heathrow expansion is unconvincing. Its difficult to see how this new information can avoid delaying the process, as MPs and the public will need time to understand how the new forecasts impact emissions, noise and the sustainability appraisal of the project. These address fundamental questions about the project’s viability and have been provided at a late stage in the process.

We will need to study the detail of today’s publication to see if it helps to answer any of these questions. But we remain concerned that the Government still has no strategy to deal with aviation emissions. The Clean Growth Strategy published earlier this month proposed no measures for aviation, and the Government will not be consulting on this issue till later next year, after the vote on Heathrow. MPs will be voting blind if they’re asked to take such a significant decision without this plan in place.

With previous attempts to expand Heathrow failing to overcome the air quality challenge, and with the UK having one of the worst air pollution related death rates in Europe, the omission of an air quality plan in the original consultation was a major flaw. With the latest Defra air quality strategy already drawing widespread criticism [for pushing the problem onto local authorities without providing them with the necessary powers or resources] and facing a fresh legal challenge, revised modelling alone for Heathrow is unlikely to provide the necessary reassurances.


Contact: Tim Johnson// // 07710 381742