Heathrow: revised Airports National Policy Statement published for consultation

The government has launched its revised draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) for consultation – taking into account updated noise analysis, air traffic forecasts and Defra's Air Quality Plan, which, according to the Department for Transport (DfT), shows how a third runway can be built at Heathrow without breaching air quality obligations.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has released new airport demand figures alongside the NPS, which show that four of the five airports in the south east of England – Heathrow, Gatwick, London City and Luton – will be operating at full capacity by the mid 2020s, with the fifth, Stansted, full within another ten years. The figures confirm that Heathrow's third runway is the option that delivers the greatest benefits soonest, Grayling said.

Gatwick's long-term hopes have been boosted by fresh DfT analysis which shows a second Gatwick runway delivers the strongest economic benefit. Grayling added to this by saying government's work on a new aviation strategy will look at expanding capacity beyond Heathrow for the UK as a whole.

The new consultation runs until 19 December, to be followed by a period of scrutiny by the transport select committee before a final Airports NPS is put to a vote in parliament. According to DfT, the overall process is 'on track' to have the NPS put to a vote in the first half of 2018. But this assumes no legal challenges to the government's plans, particularly the air quality aspects. The environmental lawyers ClientEarth may still take Defra's revised Air Quality Plan back to the High Court, opening the door to further challenge to the Airport NPS.

"An adopted NPS being put before Parliament in spring 2018 looks romantic. The NPS being challenged in the High Court by summer 2018 looks more realistic," Alistair Watson, partner from law firm Taylor Wessing, told the Financial Times.

Gatwick Airport issued a statement in response to the new draft NPS: "We will look carefully at this new consultation material, which is long and detailed. Gatwick is going from strength to strength as the world’s busiest single runway airport. We continue to offer a credible privately-financed runway plan to the government.”