Gatwick expansion – up to 15 mppa more – using main runway should be subject to planning controls

Gatwick airport intends to expand its number of flights and air passengers, both by increasing numbers on its current runway, and then also by moving its emergency runway slightly north by a few metres, so it can take more flights. The change of the emergency runway would require a Development Consent Order (DCO) as there would be more than 10 million annual passengers, and building work is needed. The increased use of the main runway could add another 15 million annual passengers, which should necessitate going through the DCO process, but as almost no building work is needed, Gatwick is aiming to by-pass this, and make the increases just through permitted development rights. The joint campaign coalition, “Gatwick’s Big Enough” (GBE) wrote to the councils in areas affected by Gatwick on this matter. They have received a reply, that the councils believe there is little they can do about the expansion on the main runway, as there are no mechanisms under current planning law to require the airport to submit a planning application. GBE is taking legal advice on the matter. The Appeal Court ruling on the Heathrow runway and ANPS, about the need to take carbon emissions into account, may be helpful here.


Gatwick’s Big Enough (GBE) campaign update


Last year the GBE campaign, which GACC leads, wrote to all the county and district /town councils around the airport asking them to put in place arrangements to ensure all Gatwick’s growth was robustly scrutinised, consulted on and subject to planning consent.

Proposed growth deriving from potential use of Gatwick’s emergency runway will be subject to a planning process known as a Development Consent Order(DCO), but that the larger
share of proposed growth, deriving from more intensive use of the current main runway, is not currently subject to any planning approval.

We believe this is wrong in principle and against government policy (and we have written separately to the government on it).

On 31st January we received this letter GBE Joint LA Ldr final letter jan 2020 from some of the councils closest to the airport.  Essentially their view is that, however desirable planning consent for main runway growth might be, councils have no mechanisms under current planning law to require it. (See below).

They argue that alternative agreements between the airport and councils provide a degree of control over the impacts of growth.

We are considering the councils’ response and continuing to engage with them. We strongly disagree that the alternative arrangements currently in place provide effective control: in our view they are feeble.

We will report further on this in due course.

More encouragingly other councils have taken a more robust view on Gatwick growth and we are engaging with them too.

And some news from government:
Kelly Tolhurst MP has been appointed Aviation Minister (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State) at the DfT. She is the 6th Aviation minister in 3 years – they don’t last long !


The letter from the councils:

GBE Joint LA Ldr final letter jan 2020 (003) (002)

Part of the letter from the local authorities to GBE:


“We have carefully investigated the various points made in your letter and write to provide our conclusions. In summary, the increase in passenger numbers from 46 million per annum to 61 million per annum in the absence of the proposed DCO authorising the use of the Northern Runway does not constitute a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) under the Planning Act 2008 nor is it development requiring planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.”


“Your suggested actions

We note that the annex to your letter includes a number of suggested actions that you would like the Authorities to undertake. We address each of these in turn.

1. “Request the Secretary of State to ensure that his policy […] is fully delivered” – The government’s policy needs to be viewed in the context of the Planning Act 2008 which sets out the legal framework for determining whether development is an NSIP. As set out above, the Authorities do not consider that GAL’s proposals to increase passenger numbers from 46mppa to 61mppa satisfy the statutory requirements for an NSIP.

2. “Invite the SoS to direct that the project be considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project under section 35 of the Planning Act 2008” – While the Authorities acknowledge the national significance of the airport, they do not currently consider that the increase in passenger numbers from 46mppa to 61mppa (or the physical works proposed by GAL in connection with this increase) constitutes development which should be subject to a section 35 order. The increase in passenger numbers is largely to be achieved through operational changes which do not constitute “development” for the purposes of the Planning Act 2008. In any event, under section 35ZA of the Planning Act 2008, it is not for the Authorities to make such an application. It is for the Authorities, and for Crawley Borough Council in particular, to monitor that development is carried out in accordance the various planning legislation. If we consider that any development is not being carried out in accordance with the legislation, it is open to Crawley Borough Council to take enforcement action.

3. “Investigate whether the main runway growth will require “alterations that would bring it within the scope of the 2008 Act” – The Authorities expect GAL to provide as part of the DCO application process a robust justification for how it will increase its passenger numbers from 46mppa to 61mppa – in other words, a clear and detailed justification of how the operational changes will have that effect and why the proposed development will not will be required. If this is not provided then the Authorities will raise this with GAL and the Secretary of State, as we did in responding to the Scoping Report. The Authorities will be interrogating GAL’s evidence on this. Furthermore, going forward Crawley Borough Council will also carefully scrutinise on a case-by-case basis any proposals to use permitted development rights to establish whether they fall within the scope of section 23.

4. “Review whether the main runway project is a material change of use requiring planning permission under sections 55 and 57 of the Planning Act 1990” – The Authorities do not consider the increase in passenger numbers from 46mppa to 61mppa to constitute a material change of use requiring planning permission under the 1990 Act.

5. “Terminate the current Section 106 agreement with Gatwick and negotiate a new agreement incorporating a cap” – The Authorities cannot compel GAL to enter into a new agreement incorporating a cap at the current time and there is clearly no commercial incentive on GAL to agree to such a cap. However, the Authorities will seek to negotiate a section 106 agreement as part of the DCO process and this may include reference to caps and other control measures on the number of passengers, flights or runways, linked to the capacity and likely significant environmental effects assessed as part of the EIA for the DCO.