Blog: 18 June 2018Heathrow: How do we capture the wider benefits?

Iain Painting

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Iain Painting

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With the Government’s ‘New Runway Capacity and Infrastructure at Airports in the South East of England’ National Planning Statement (NPS) now published, their support for Heathrow is now established (subject to a Parliamentary vote this month) and whatever your view is on the rights or wrongs of aviation capacity/the merits of Heathrow, there is no doubt that airports are major economic growth generators. To capture these benefits however, we need to plan for them.

The draft London Plan is a key planning method for doing just this but currently the draft effectively reserves judgement, stating that the Mayor will “review and clarify the area’s potential contribution to London’s growth when expansion proposals and their spatial and environmental implications are clearer”. So, what does the publication of the NPS mean for the examination of the draft London Plan? And subsequently, Borough plans?  How is the impact of Heathrow expansion captured beyond London?

It was announced in April 2018, that Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) will part fund the Heathrow Strategic Planning Group (HSPG). This is consistent with the emerging NPPF which provides for voluntary strategic planning, but what status will this group have? What status should it have?

To date, the HSPG aims and objectives are laudable and well intentioned, with their recent press coverage stating they have been formed to “enable collaborative working towards a better spatial planning and the management of impacts and maximisation of benefits that will result in development of the airport”.

In 2014, we mapped the employment markets and travel to work patterns for Heathrow, and the area of influence was already very wide. This will only be increased by the transport infrastructure proposed to support access, but there will remain some clear hot spots of existing airport related labour that we must assume will continue. The pressure for new development, both employment and housing will therefore surely be felt most acutely in this these areas.

Housing as we know is already under pressure across London and the wider south east. The application of standard methodology will, in most part, substantially increase this pressure in those areas best related to Heathrow. The short point is that there is no easy source of capacity, and with the draft London Plan not addressing Heathrow’s implications currently Borough’s and Local Authorities are not likely to address this challenge for some time.  

We therefore not only need to plan properly for the infrastructure of the airport and beyond, but also put in place strategies that capture the benefits in a sustainable manner. This means a strategic planning process and the HSPG may well represent the basis of such an approach but a Development Corporation or similar, with powers, surely represents a more effective mechanism?

Any strategic plan must also surely include a review of the Green Belt. Whilst the Government is committed to protecting the Green Belt in principle, Heathrow expansion represents an ‘exceptional circumstance’ that warrants a co-ordinated review. Failure will result in sporadic and ad hoc development, with a failure to capture all the benefit and optimise the sustainability of the pattern of development that will result.

As for delivery, the timeline set out by Heathrow currently aims to have planes taking off from the shiny new runway by the late 2020’s. The Development Consent Order (DCO) planning route proposed offers some certainty around this timing, but the risk of delay in process really lies in Heathrow’s ability to forge ahead when faced with the derailing effect of a third-party High Court challenge. Delivery of the wider infrastructure, western and southern rail links are crucial. The delivery of which remains challenging, not least in terms of funding.

We need a vehicle to plan for this. To ensure co-ordination and joined up thinking. The DCO process can only deliver consent for the specific infrastructure that it the subject of the Order. Capturing the wider benefits, not just in terms of jobs and growth, but community, environmental and transport, lies in a wider strategic planning function, with a focus on delivery. . .

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Heathrow Airport, National Planning Statement, Infrastructure, BWInfrastructure, South East