Government faces fight to keep to its planning timetable for the new runway, by Richard Garlick

The government has finally made its choice about where in the South East airport expansion should take place. But the arguments around the new Heathrow runway are far from over. Among the many issues to be debated over coming years will be the capacity of the planning system to cope with schemes such as this.

The handling of the planning application for Heathrow’s Terminal Five, with its four year inquiry at the turn of the century, became a byword for the failings of the late 20th century planning system.

The Planning Act 2008, with its introduction of the system for determining Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, was supposed to have changed all that. The new runway will present the 2008 Act system with its toughest test to date, with some commentators already questioning whether the planning delays associated with Terminal 5 could be repeated.

The government has set out an ambitious planning timetable for the new runway. It expects the first step in the process, the National Policy Statement (NPS) on airport capacity, to be completed by the end of July 2017, giving itself slightly more than nine months. It then expects the application for the Development Consent Order to be lodged by March 2020, and determined by 2021.

Experts say the schedule looks very tight. Opinion is divided over the realism of the nine month target for completion of the NPS. Sceptics point out the particularly deep rancour that surrounds this scheme, and that the last location-specific NPS took more than a year.

Designation of the NPS is seen as one of the events that could trigger a legal challenge, which would delay the DCO application. Objectors are also likely to seek to challenge any DCO approval, further delaying the process. It looks as if we are in this for the long haul.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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