This is entry number 47 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Airport infrastructure is one of the 16 types of nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP), the first 12 of which will use a new authorisation regime under the Planning Act 2008 from 1 March 2010. Today's entry looks at this area in more detail, and highlights some issues that apply to it in particular.
The first point to note is that the threshold for an airport project to be considered nationally significant is very high - possibly the highest in the Act. For an expansion of an airport to be an NSIP, it must be in England or English waters and be expected to increase capacity at the airport by at least 10 million passengers per year, or 10,000 air cargo movements per year. This is unlikely to happen very often - indeed only five UK airports currently handle more than 10 million passengers a year, never mind being planned to expand by that amount - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester and Luton, with Birmingham not far behind. East Midlands Airport is the only other airport that currently exceeds the cargo threshold. A new airport would have to be capable of handling at least 10m passengers or 10,000 cargo movements per year from the word go for it to be an NSIP. Such a new airport may be unlikely but not impossible: 'Boris Island' in the Thames Estuary, for example - is that why the Act mentions 'English waters'?
The second point to note is that the increase in capacity need not come about through physical development - it could simply be the lifting of a planning restriction as to capacity. This happened at Stansted recently, where the cap on passengers of 25m per year was raised to 35m per year, without building a thing. Had that happened after 28 February 2010, it would (just, by one passenger) have been an NSIP and would have had to use the new regime for approval. If there is physical development, however, it could be one of several things - a runway, a terminal building or a new control tower, for example.
Thirdly, airport infrastructure will be unique amongst the types of NSIP because of the gap between the regime becoming compulsory for applications, and the publication of the corresponding National Policy Statement (NPS) that is supposed to be used to decide applications. All the other types of NSIP will see their corresponding NPS published at around the same time as the application regime starts. For airports, however, applications become compulsory on 1 March 2010, whereas the publication in draft of the Airports NPS is expected 'by 2011', which probably means 'by the end of 2011'. Thus there will probably be about a two year gap during which time any airport NSIP applications will have to be measured against existing aviation policy, and decided by the Secretary of State instead of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).
Two pieces of recent news may affect the timing of the first airport NSIP. The announcement nearly two weeks ago that BAA will not apply for a third runway at Heathrow (R3) this side of a general election, and the prospect of the anti-R3 Tories winning the election, suggests that an airports NSIP for Heathrow is unlikely any time soon. On the other hand the announcement of the sale of Gatwick Airport may mean an application for a second runway there that is timed to coincide with the expiry of a prohibition on constructing one before 2019.
Those are the three special features of airports as they apply to the Planning Act 2008. If you are interested to know more about this subject, I will be addressing Marketforce's 'The Future of Air Transport' conference on 2 December.