CILT's Aviation Policy Group has responded to the news that, on 27 February, the Appeal Court ruled that the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS), which had been approved by Parliament in June 2018, was unlawful as section 5(8) of the Planning Act 2008 (which requires that reasons for the policy in the ANPS ‘must …. include an explanation of how the policy….takes account of Government policy relating to the mitigation of …….climate change’) had not been complied with. The Appeal Court accepted that whilst the Paris Agreement (ratified by the UK in November 2016) is unincorporated into UK law and is of no legal force, it is Government Policy and its implications must therefore be addressed in accordance with section 5(8). Because on the Government’s own admission it had not been, it followed that the ANPS did not comply with the Planning Act 2008 and therefore was unlawful. The judges were very careful to say that they were not ruling on the merits of the ANPS or of its key policy of a third runway at Heathrow. However, the Government subsequently said that they would not appeal against the judgement and Secretary of State Grant Shapps emphasised the current policy of Making Best Use of existing airport capacity.
So what does this mean for the development of the UK’s airports? First and foremost, there is no legal Policy Statement on UK Aviation, which any prospective airport developer can cite in support of their scheme. So this will make it considerably more difficult for any airport development to proceed. The Appeal Court clearly expects the Secretary of State to review all or part of the APNS, in accordance with the procedures set out in sections 6,7 and 9 of the Planning Act 2008 (and explicitly said so in their judgement). The SoS can then amend or withdraw the statement, or leave the statement as it is (Section 6(5)). It is not yet known what the Government intends to do. However the third runway at Heathrow must have the support of an APNS so it can be designated under the Act and enable planning to proceed to an accelerated timescale. So until the APNS review is carried out the project is on hold. The Airport has said it will appeal the judgement but the grounds on which it will do so are not yet known. The Government was in the process of creating a UK-wide, long term aviation strategy, taking into account the climate change commitments and, presumably, this will now continue, but maybe with a key assumption that Heathrow will not have a third runway. However the legal basis for developing the strategy without a valid APNS must be questionable.
What would Heathrow do under the ‘Making Best Use’ policy? No doubt it would seek to increase aircraft movements - there is capacity for 25,000 more per year with the existing infrastructure. The proposed night jet ban would be abandoned and, indeed, the airport may seek to add flights in the key early morning (5-6am) period which is important for long haul routes and, in particular, for freight. There would be little incentive to make other environmental improvements other than those required by law. The Airport and airlines would seek to increase passenger numbers by replacing small aircraft with larger types and, where smaller types are used on less viable routes, replacing these routes with more lucrative services. Without major new runway capacity there would be little opportunity to introduce new competitor airlines. There is the opportunity to increase the passenger terminal capacity at the airport, but new rail links would be more challenging to fund.
For the rest of the UK’s airports the outcome would be mixed. There could be more headroom within the proposed climate change commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2050 for other airports to expand, so Gatwick’s secondary runway and the proposed expansions at Luton and Stansted would become more likely. Some airports outside the South East might be able to attract more international flights by non UK airlines, but would also be likely to lose their key services to London. The Government’s review of regional air connectivity will now have to work on the basis that airlines will not want to use valuable Heathrow slots for marginally viable domestic routes.
CILT has consistently supported the expansion of the UK’s airports provided certain key conditions were met. We have followed and contributed to the eight year process which began with the Airports Commission and included many other studies, consultations and Select Committee scrutiny,, concluding in the overwhelming Parliamentary support for the ANPS. The court ruling now means we have no valid National Aviation Policy Statement and there is likely to be a considerable period of reconsideration.