This is entry number 157, first published on 26 August 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog. .
Today's entry reports on possible plans to combine the transport National Policy Statements.
The previous government's programme for National Policy Statements under the Planning Act was to have twelve in all - six energy, three transport and three waste/water. The Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG), as the department responsible for planning, is co-ordinating their production, with the three 'client' departments of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Transport (DfT) and Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) producing the drafts.
The three transport ones were to be the Ports NPS, which was issued in draft in November 2009, a National Networks NPS, which was to cover road, rail and rail freight projects, and would have come out around the time of the election but has yet to emerge, and an Airports NPS, which would have been issued in 2011. Although this is believed not (yet) to have the support of the DfT, CLG are apparently considering the merger of at least the Airports NPS with the National Networks NPS, and also possibly the draft Ports NPS, which would create a single Transport NPS.
The reason for the potential loss of the Airports NPS is fairly clear - it would be unlikely for any proposed projects to come forward in the near future for it to apply to. The coalition's Programme for Government starkly pledges: "We will cancel the third runway at Heathrow; We will refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted". Accordingly, on 24 May BAA announced that it was withdrawing its (pre-Planning Act) application for a second runway at Stansted and would not make an application for a third runway at Heathrow.
Gatwick is a slightly different case. It is subject to a legal agreement between BAA and West Sussex County Council that the former will not build a second runway or cause a second runway to be built before 13 August 2019. It is not clear whether Global Infrastructure Partners, who acquired Gatwick from BAA late last year, are subject to that agreement, but in any event earlier this year (before the election) they ruled out building a second runway for at least ten years (thereby extending that deadline for about six months). The landscape may well have changed for all three airports come 2020, which would be after one and possibly two further general elections.
There are of course other airports in England, but the threshold for an extension to come within the Planning Act is so high that no other airport is likely to meet it. Capacity must increase by at least 10 million passengers a year (or 10,000 cargo movements a year). Manchester is the only airport other than the three London airports above whose current throughput is more than 10 million passengers (although Luton and Birmingham were both over 9 million in 2009), and so an extension of that magnitude is unlikely.
There is a possibility that a new airport in the Thames Estuary (nicknamed Boris Island after the Mayor of London, who supports it) might come forward, which would technically escape the ban in the Programme for Government, but it is likely to take many years to work up a new airport from scratch.
Merging the already-published draft Ports NPS with the forthcoming National Networks NPS would be an interesting development. Like the decision to reconsult on the appraisals leading to the energy NPSs, the reason for this may come from the Parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPS. The conclusion from the Transport Select Committee in the Commons was that the Ports NPS was 'not fit for purpose' because it was premature on two grounds. The first was that it could not be properly considered without sight of the National Networks NPS (and less relevantly the second was that the Marine Management Organisation had not then been created and its views would be highly relevant).
Another reason for merging the transport NPSs into a single one would be to provide an overarching view of transport across different modes. The suite of six energy NPSs has an Overarching Energy NPS, which is able to take a look at the general need for electricity generation and how it should be provided by different generation types, but there was to be no equivalent for transport. It must make sense to be able to consider the need for the movement of passengers and goods in general before setting out which modes of transport should be used to meet those needs. Ports, airports and road/rail cannot each properly be considered in isolation.
Confirmation or denial of this potential merger is likely to be forthcoming once CLG publishes its revised route map for implementing the Planning Act, expected 'late summer', which is likely to mean September or October. Civil servants often have a flexible interpretation of meteorology.