Draft Airports NPS : new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England;

Airspace Policy Consultation;


  1. A number of highly significant announcements were made last week in relation to the future of UK Airports and in particular Heathrow.
  2. First the Secretary of State on 2 Feb issued his decision granting permission for enabling works to allow full runway alternation operations at Heathrow during easterlies (09L 27R) which takes forward the 2009 Government commitment to set aside the Cranford Agreement.
  3. Secondly, hard on the High Court’s ruling that the challenge mounted to the Government’s decision to favour a new Northwest runway at Heathrow announced in October 2016 should be dismissed, the Government launched its consultation into the proposed Airports National Policy Statement together with proposals for a new decision process for changes to UK Airspace operations and accompanying new Air Navigation Guidance.
  4. These consultations will all run until May 2017.
  5. We provide below a summary and notable features of these important Govt documents.

The Draft NPS

  1. The draft NPS once designated will form the basis for any future DCO applications under Planning Act 2008 for NSIP proposals to increase airports capacity in South East England although the only option identified is Heathrow and the new NW runway (together with supporting measures). This follows the work and recommendations of the Airports Commission set up in 2012 which first concluded that a further runaway was needed in the Southeast by 2030 and then analysed a series of options including not only the existing airports but also the suggestion of a new estuary airport.
  2. It is set out in a familiar format for NPS providing a narrative background which then leads to the conclusions and recommendations drawn thereafter. It then sets out the framework for consideration of any future DCO application(s).
  3. The NPS goes into more specific detail as to how it formed its conclusions as to the choices between Heathrow and Gatwick for a new runway and thereafter between a new NW runway or an extension to the existing northern runway at Heathrow (the Heathrow Hub option) and why these alternatives to the NW runway were rejected.
  4. The preferred scheme is identified as a runway of at least 3,500m in length to enable at least 260,000 additional ATMs per annum. The NPS is also to have effect in relation to terminal infrastructure associated with the Heathrow NW scheme and the reconfiguration of the central terminal area at Heathrow Airport.
  5. In that context, the NPS acknowledges that the future applicants may well promote more than one application for development consent, dealing with different components individually.
  6. In addition, it also acknowledges that certain discrete aspects of the surface access which do not qualify as NSIPs or as associated development would have to be pursued under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Highways Act 1980, or the Transport and Works Act 1992.
  7. Chapter 5 of the NPS in particular sets the assessments that the applicant will need to carry out, and the specific planning requirements that the applicant will need to meet, in order to gain development consent. These are described as supporting measures that any DCO application will be required to demonstrate and secure in order to mitigate the impacts of expansion on the environment and affected communities. Reference thereafter is made to surface access and a broad range of environmental issues including air quality and noise especially. The former must ensure there is no impact on UK’s compliance with EU air quality limit values and the latter must ensure the delivery of a noise envelope, predictable respite periods for residents in line with runway alternation operations and ensure a night flight ban between 11pm and 7am. In addition, reference is made to the requirement for an appropriate community compensation package on top of existing statutory measures, adequate community engagement and the creation of further employment related skills and apprenticeships.
  8. The last item listed under this chapter is the Government’s decision to rule out a fourth runway.

Draft UK Airspace Policy

  1. This document makes 6 principal proposals relating to changes to airspace and airport operations focussing very much on noise impacts.
  2. First in terms of procedures where airspace changes the following is proposed:
  • With regard to Tier 1 permanent changes structure of UK airspace it is suggested that the Secretary of State should have a call-in function in addition to the existing CAA requirements.
  • With regard Tier 2 planned and permanent changes to Air-Traffic Control operations expected to cause a certain level of noise, it is proposed that the CAA now be involved in ensuring engagement with local communities and thereafter assess the proposal against various factors before deciding whether to approve it.
  • With regard to Tier 3 covers changes to operations, which may or may not be planned, it is proposed that the CAA puts in place a suitable light touch approach and process for industry to follow but sets out expectations on transparency and engagement with communities, including on potential ways to mitigate adverse impacts.
  1. Secondly the draft Airspace policy sets out proposals to update the compensation policy for airspace changes and noise impacts These are:
  • that people experiencing changes in noise as a result of changes to airspace should expect the same compensation as that associated with new infrastructure (such as a new runway).
  • that a property need only be within an eligible noise contour (63dB LAeq or above) in order to receive financial assistance towards insulation
  • that even where properties do not fall within eligible noise contours, airports should consider compensation for significantly increased overflight.
  • that home owners who live within the highest noise contours (69dB LAeq or higher) should not only be offered assistance with the costs of moving but if they do not want to move be offered the cost of full insulation.
  1. Thirdly it sets out how noise should be factored into future airspace changes as follows:
    • sponsors of an airspace change should carry out an options analysis as part of the airspace change process
    • local circumstances and consideration of different options, including the pros and cons of concentrating air traffic on single routes versus the use of multiple routes, be considered
    • the impacts on carbon and air quality as well as noise be considered and put into the balance in line with the Government’s environmental objectives with respect to air navigation.
  2. Fourthly, the draft Airspace policy seeks to address how noise impacts on people, including those on health and quality of life, should best be assessed. Reference is made to the overall policy on aviation noise which is ‘to limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise, as part of a policy of sharing benefits of noise reduction between industry and communities in support of sustainable development’. To achieve this the proposal is
  • to clarify that overall aviation noise policy should be understood to limit and, where possible reduce the number of people experiencing adverse effects from aircraft noise, not the number of people within a specific noise contour because it is recognised that there are people exposed to noise levels lower than the noise contour who consider themselves annoyed and people exposed to higher levels of noise who do not.
  • adverse effects from aviation noise should be measured using the Department for Transport’s webTAG tool2.2 which can provide a monetised value for the impact of changes in noise exposure
  • that other metrics which measure the frequency and pattern of aircraft communities may be exposed to should also inform decisions and should help communities understand the impact of proposed changes.
  1. Fifthly, the policy document proposes an Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN) to support upcoming airspace changes. ICCAN’s functions should be to:
  • Advise on airspace change, providing assurance that noise has been considered and mitigated where possible.
  • Advise on planning decisions and ongoing noise management.
  • Promote and publish best practice guidance
  • Review or commission research to present new evidence.
  • Monitor noise measurements and how these are reported, to build trust and improve transparency and credibility.
  1. Sixthly in terms of ongoing noise management, the Government’s aim is that decisions on noise be made locally where possible, with the Government’s involvement focussed only on strategic decisions.
  2. To do this the policy document proposes that operating restrictions be agreed through the planning system where possible with a clear division between those associated with strategically significant decisions being NSIPs under the PA 2008 and all other planning-related operating restrictions be for the LPA or may be called in for the SofS.
  3. It is proposed that the CAA would be the competent authority for approving any operating restrictions brought forward by an airport outside of the planning process and that designated airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted) manage noise in a way that best reflects the issues faced by their local communities.
  4. It is also proposed that the noise controls (other than operating restrictions) currently set by the Government, such as departure noise limits, continuous descent approaches and noise-preferential routes, be transferred to the airports. In addition, designated airports should publish data on their departure routes and track keeping performance in order to make it easier for the public to see changes over time. The exact information published should be determined by the airports themselves, in consultation with local communities.


Celina Colquhoun is a member of the Planning and Environment and Regulatory and Licensing groups at No5 Barristers’ Chambers.