Planning matters

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The UK Aviation Strategy: new aviation White Paper set for take-off
Following two Government consultations earlier in the year on aviation, the Department for Transport has begun plans to develop a new UK Aviation Strategy to, help shape the future of the aviation industry to 2050 and beyond. Where the previous two 2017 aviation consultations dealt with a National Policy Statement for a new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport and a review of the future of airspace management, this national strategy will seek to review the challenges facing aviation as well as opportunities – to set out a long-term direction for aviation policy and how the Government can support the future growth of the industry.   There is a long and complex history of UK aviation policy, focused primarily on the need (or not) for additional runway capacity. It’s been four years since Government published the extant national policy – the Aviation Policy Framework 2013 – which set out the principles the Airports Commission (which came to a close in 2015) took into account when assessing the need for new runway capacity. The predecessor of the Aviation Policy Framework was the White Paper, the Future of Air Transport 2003. This set out the need for all UK airports to consider their own position and role via an airport master plan – at the time it also gave support for a new runway at Heathrow Airport. The 1985 Airports Policy White Paper took a more conservative view, recommending the need to review capacity provision and until that time stating that the focus should be on making best use of existing capacity.   This proposed new aviation strategy moves beyond the runway and capacity debate, with an overriding aim of putting the customer at the centre of aviation policy - ‘to achieve a safe, secure and sustainable aviation sector that meets the needs of consumers and of a global outward-looking Britain[1]’, whilst still seeking to ‘make best use of existing capacity at all airports around the country[2]’. At a recent Aviation Club UK[3] event[4], the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, spoke of the emerging strategy and reinforced the importance of aviation in a post-Brexit environment, confirming that it remains central to the Government’s plans for the UK.  With a long term view in mind, the focus of this new strategy will be to boost economic growth, regional connectivity and skills to prepare the industry for the next three decades and beyond.   The first step in preparing this emerging policy is a call for evidence by Government. The consultation document ‘Beyond the horizon: the future of UK aviation – call for evidence on a new strategy’, was published on 21st July 2017 and closes 13th October 2017. The Government has identified six themes it considers important to take the aviation industry forward and is now seeking views on the approach to take and the issues that it has identified. The six themes are: Customer service Safety and security Growing global connectivity Encouraging competitive markets Supporting growth while tackling environmental impacts Embracing innovation and technology, and building a skilled workforce Government has said that following this call for evidence, consultations on each of the six themes will run throughout 2017 and 2018; publication of the final aviation strategy will be by the end of 2018. Future Lichfields blogs will consider the various elements contained in these proposed publications and their implications, so please subscribe for future updates.   The areas we’re most interested to hear more on from Government include: the mechanisms proposed to safeguard existing airport operations; the role of regional connectivity; preserving the general aviation network; and the need to demonstrate the contribution and the need for adequate surface access.   Who should be interested in this initial call for evidence? The Government wants to hear from airlines, airports, the aerospace sector, freight customers, passengers and the public about how Government can support the industry. Given the long-term view of this emerging policy and its focus on boosting economic growth, connectivity and skills, it will be important for everyone who the industry serves, and those who are affected by it, to have their say. The consultation period for this first stage of review ends on 13th October. Please do get in touch if you would like to know more about the objectives of the call for evidence and the questions posed by Government, and would like our assistance with preparing a submission.   [1] Beyond the horizon: the future of UK aviation – call for evidence on a new strategy, page 20. [2] Beyond the horizon: the future of UK aviation – call for evidence on a new strategy, page 22. [3] Tabitha Knowles is a member of the Aviation Club UK. [4] Aviation Club UK meeting, held 12th July 2017.  

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Helicopter operations and the need to balance competing interests
In land use planning, helicopter operations are often seen as a contentious NIMBY issue with multiple competing and conflicting views. There is a need to balance the benefits that helicopter operations can bring against any negative impact. Helicopter operations have a key role to play in the delivery of sustainable development at a local and national level – providing jobs, movement of people and goods, and inward investment. They also provide a range of functions, including the transportation of people and equipment, military operations, emergency services such as the Coastguard, Police, air ambulance, aid drops and medi-vacs - and the all-important news gathering. They save time and lives by providing point to point access to locations where other forms of transport can’t reach. In an era of increasing security concerns, helicopters are able to move individuals perceived to be at risk, safely and quickly, particularly in urban areas. Helicopter airport infrastructure (airports, helipad and heliports) are hubs for this aviation activity. Within the context of land use planning, it’s important that there is adequate protection of helicopter infrastructure so helicopters are able to carry out and sustain their operations (safely and efficiently) to deliver these benefits. Negative perceptions surrounding helicopter operations are that they have limited passenger-carrying capacity, limited range and fly time, are a very expensive mode of transport often seen as exclusively for the rich and few, and can result in considerable environmental impact, particularly in built-up urban areas. Within the context of land use planning, proposals for helipads and heliports can be met with resistance, given the perceived low economic benefit and high environmental impact. The exceptions in people’s minds are facilities for emergency helicopter operations, which have a recognised social purpose that offsets the environmental impacts. To balance the actual and perceived benefits of helicopter operations and the actual and perceived negative impact of helicopters – as well as the need to ensure safe and efficient operations – the provision of helicopter infrastructure is carefully regulated by both the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) (as the regulator), and planning law and policy. The result is a complex regulatory and policy system, which raises some interesting questions: In the UK there are numerous locations being used as helicopter landing sites throughout the year. Others involve seasonal peak activities, particularly during the summer period. At what point do such sites, used on an ad-hoc and informal basis, trigger the need to obtain planning permission and aerodrome approvals from the CAA? Ultimately it will depend on the volume and timing of operations and each case needs to be considered on its merits. Is the socio-economic contribution of helicopter operations properly recognised in national, regional and local planning – or do the potential environmental impacts instantly override this benefit? The London planning system is a good example. Additional helicopter infrastructure is in demand for what is a world city, yet any proposals for new heliports are resisted as a matter of policy by the Mayor of London, with the exception of emergency services provision. The London Plan states that the noise impacts from helicopters can be considerable in an urban environment and that there are few locations in the capital where a heliport could be located without having major impacts on residents. Perhaps it is time to make more explicit just what the socio- economic benefits of helicopter operations are, to counterbalance the strong weight given to avoiding perceived environmental impacts. Is the overarching requirement for safe operations – as laid out in CAA regulations - compatible or at odds with the objectives of land use planning? Can the site be used safely and in accordance with the applicable safety rules? Are there neighbouring congested areas? Does the airspace need to be shared with other aeronautical interests? It’s vital that any existing or proposed development nearby, which could give rise to the creation of obstacles and hazards and impact on a site’s ability to carry out its operations, is carefully monitored and regulated. But how well is this requirement to safeguard being applied in the land use planning process? Are there appropriate and known procedures in place, and are they being implemented? If the current position on heliport land use planning policy and some recent planning decisions are anything to go by, it would seem that there is still much uncertainty around these questions - that is, how and why there is a need to balance the competing and conflicting views of helicopter operations. *Lichfields is a member of the British Helicopter Association (BHA).  

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