The expansion of Heathrow Airport has significant plan-making implications for the local planning authorities in its vicinity, experts agree.
Councils in the area have already been working together to understand the ramifications of expansion at the airport, but there is concern that next year’s local plan deadline will not give them time to plan properly in order to accommodate the employment and housing growth the new runway will generate.
Greg Dickson, head of transport infrastructure at consultancy Turley, said that a new runway at Heathrow would mean an "upward shift in growth", and said that local plans in the area around the airport should reflect this. "There’s a lot of growth that needs to be accommodated," he said. Dickson added that the London Plan, currently being updated by mayor Sadiq Khan, would "need to give some consideration" to what the new runway means for the growth of west London.
So what scale of growth are the authorities in Heathrow’s sub-region likely to face as a result of its expansion? Adding runway capacity at Heathrow is forecast to create up to 77,000 additional local jobs over the next 14 years, according to the Department for Transport. The findings of the government-commissioned Airports Commission, published last year, estimate that up to 70,800 additional homes could be required to accommodate the new workers.
Robin Shepherd, planning partner at consultancy Barton Willmore, suggested that ensuring local authorities’ local plan aspirations accommodate this growth may not be straightforward. He said that the fact that some of the authorities in the Heathrow sub-region - such as Hillingdon and Windsor and Maidenhead - have signalled they are will to pursue legal action to halt the third runway "suggests that some are not keen to take on board that growth".
Shepherd also points out that local plan preparation progress in the area around Heathrow is patchy, with some emerging local plans in the surrounding area unlikely to be finalised within the timescale for the development consent order (DCO) decision on the new runway.
Shepherd questioned whether a government amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which would give the secretary of state powers to direct local authorities to work together on local plans could assist. "I wonder whether this was the sort of thing that the government had in mind," he said.
Planning consultant Michael Thornton, who convenes a sub-regional planning group for the area around Heathrow, said that the group has already been meeting for more than a year and has been undertaking work to understand the planning implications of Heathrow expansion.
The Heathrow Strategic Planning Group - which is led by Hounslow Council and has 13 members including local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and Heathrow Airport Limited - will meet next month to consider next steps in light of the government's announcement, according to Thornton.
He said that the group’s members have a range of views on the future expansion of Heathrow but do have common objectives to develop a joint understanding of the implications of growth scenarios, including for Heathrow’s new north-west runway.
The group is developing options to be considered by the political leadership of its members, he said. At a minimum, he added, the work could be used in the evidence presented at any DCO inquiry and at all local plan inquiries in the sub-region. But it could also include developing a common vision and set of development principles to align the DCO and local plans around, through to, at the far end of the spectrum, the creation of a joint strategy for the sub-region, Thornton added.
Thornton said that the delay to the government’s announcement on its preferred option for airport expansion had held up local plan production in the sub-region. He said that the delay had made it "very difficult" for authorities in the area to get on with plan-making and to meet the government’s 2017 local plan deadline.
Authorities have had mixed messages from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on whether they could be granted more time, he added. "We have the capability and powers to do this together but we need government resource support and recognition that local authorities need time to plan properly," he said. "The 2017 deadline for local plans simply doesn’t allow for that given the programme outlined for the National Policy Statement and DCO for the airport expansion."
A DCLG spokesperson said: "We have been clear that we expect all authorities to produce a local plan by early 2017.
"However, they are fully able to review their plans at any time to respond to changes in their local area."