The NPS consultation received an enthusiastic response; whether or not such responses were enthusiastic about the proposals remains to be seen. The consultation closed on 25 May and the Government is currently analysing over 70,000 responses.
When launching the consultation, the Government noted that it expected to lay a final NPS before Parliament by winter 2017-18. On 13 July, the Government announced that this will now be delayed until the first half of 2018 (most likely a six-month delay), the delay being attributed to the timing of the election and the need to re-start a Select Committee inquiry into the draft NPS. The Transport Select Committee launched an inquiry into the NPS earlier in the year but this was closed due to the election; as such, and given parliamentary recess and the party conference season, it is unlikely that the inquiry will re-commence before the autumn.
Importantly, as part of its announcement, the Government emphasised that it remains “fully committed to realising the benefits that a new north-west runway at Heathrow would bring, in terms of economic growth, boosting jobs and skills, strengthening domestic links and – critically – increasing and developing our international connectivity as we prepare to leave the European Union”.
While the reasons given for the delay are plausible, it is likely that there are other factors in play. In particular, the Environmental Audit Committee published a report in February stating that the Government must publish a “comprehensive re-analysis” of the air quality impacts of Heathrow expansion alongside the final NPS, taking into account the Government’s new air quality plan which the High Court ordered to be published by 31 July.
In addition, in the NPS consultation document, the Government explained that it was undertaking further work to update its passenger forecasts and that it would publish the information as soon as possible during the consultation. The Government is yet to publish such information and has announced that the aviation model continues to be developed to allow final forecasts to be produced and that it is likely that publication will happen when all work in this area has been completed.
Therefore, in addition to reviewing the consultation responses, the Government has work of its own to do; work on sensitive issues which will likely form a pivotal part of the NPS. We anticipate that the air quality impacts will receive particular attention given the rising prominence of the issue; the objections to the Government’s attempts to delay publication of the draft air quality plan and the associated ClientEarth litigation support this.