In September, transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that a new consultation was required on the government’s draft airports national policy statement (NPS) as further work was being carried out by the Department for Transport "to update the evidence base, including revised aviation demand forecasts and the government’s final air quality plan".
The airports NPS will guide the planning decision on Heathrow's third runway, which will be delivered via the nationally significant infrastructure project regime. Yesterday, the government published a consultation document on the revised draft, seeking comments by 19 December.
A document published alongside the consultation says that the expansion of Heathrow can be delivered in compliance with European Union air quality rules if there is "effective implementation" of the government’s air quality plan.
The document says that the risk of a third runway breaching EU air quality rules "is primarily dependent on the timing of the introduction of, and effectiveness of, actions in the Government’s 2017 plan to reduce emissions from vehicles on the wider road network, together with effective real driving emissions (RDE) legislation".
However, it adds that the overall conclusion is that, subject to effective implementation of the air quality plan measures, "increased airport capacity will not affect modelled compliance with EU limit values".
Elsewhere, updated aviation demand forecasts, also published yesterday, show that the need for additional runway capacity is even greater than originally thought. They show that all five of London’s main airports will be completely full by the mid-2030s, and four of them within a decade.
A new third runway at Heathrow remains the government’s preferred option for airport expansion in the South East.
A government statement said that the revised draft NPS has been laid in the library of the House of Commons and will now receive select committee scrutiny under a legally specified "relevant period" starting today and ending on 23 March 2018.
Once the select committee scrutiny is complete, the final NPS will be subject to a vote in the House of Commons. If designated, Heathrow Airport would be expected to submit a development consent application to the Planning Inspectorate.
Grayling said in February that the government expected to lay a final airports NPS before Parliament "for debate and an expected vote in the House of Commons by winter 2017-18".
A statement of principles agreed between Heathrow Airport Ltd and the secretary of state for transport in October last year had committed the government to designate an NPS on airport capacity supporting the expansion of Heathrow "by no later than 31 July 2017".
Reacting to the publication of the documents, Duncan Field, UK head of planning at law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, said: "The update to the draft NPS was expected to take account of updated passenger demand forecasts and the government's recently published air quality initiatives. It does this in a relatively straightforward way which should ensure no further delay to the eventual designation of the NPS.
"However, particularly in light of the updated forecasts which demonstrate an even stronger demand for air travel in the coming years, it is disappointing that the NPS maintains its narrow focus on Heathrow.
"There is some encouraging commentary for other airports such as 'the government accepts that it may well be possible for existing airports to demonstrate sufficient need for their proposals' but with a new runway at least 10 years away it is a pity that the government has missed an opportunity potentially to accelerate growth at other airports through a clear and unequivocal statement of support in the NPS for other expansion proposals which make the best use of existing runway infrastructure".
Separately, the government has announced that it is to create a commission to monitor the noise impacts of new "airspace and infrastructure changes" and give the transport secretary a new call-in power where these could have noise impacts.