Policy Summary: What the airports national policy statement means for Heathrow and beyond

POLICY: Airports National Policy Statement: New Runway Capacity and Infrastructure at Airports in the South East of England.

Heathrow Airport: additional capacity (photo: BAA)
Heathrow Airport: additional capacity (photo: BAA)

ISSUED BY: Department for Transport 

ISSUE DATE: 5 June 2018 

BACKGROUND: The airports national policy statement (NPS) provides the primary basis for decision-making on development consent applications for the new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport. It will be an important and relevant consideration more widely in terms of applications for additional annual runway capacity and other airport infrastructure in London and the South East.


The NPS applies to schemes at Heathrow Airport that include a runway of at least 3,500 metres in length and that are capable of delivering additional capacity of at least 260,000 "air transport movements" – flights, in other words. It also covers any associated infrastructure and surface access facilities, in particular the reconfiguration of existing terminals and the provision of a new terminal to be located between the two existing runways at Heathrow Airport.

The NPS says that, in considering any proposed development, the examining authority and the secretary of state will take into account its potential benefits, including the facilitation of economic development, as well as its potential adverse impacts and any measures to avoid, reduce or compensate for those impacts. Environmental, safety, social and economic impacts, be they positive or negative, will be considered at national, regional and local levels, it adds.

The document is particularly strongly worded when it comes to air quality, stating that any proposal that risks undermining the UK’s ability to comply with its legal obligations will be rejected. The measure applies not just to the ultimate operation of the third runway but also to the construction of the runway and associated infrastructure and development.

The NPS is similarly robust in its stance on noise pollution, stating that "development consent should not be granted unless the secretary of state is satisfied that the proposals will avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life from noise". Again, the policy relates to both the construction and operation of the project.

In terms of other potential airport expansion projects in London and the South East, the statement confirms that it is the government’s position that the solution of first resort is to make better use of existing infrastructure, stating that it is "supportive of airports beyond Heathrow making best use of their existing runways".

However, the NPS also leaves the door slightly ajar in terms of the government’s attitude to potential future expansion at other airports. "We recognise that the development of airports can have positive and negative impacts, including on noise levels," it states, adding: "We consider that any proposals should be judged on their individual merits by the relevant planning authority, taking careful account of all relevant considerations."

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