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A light at the end of the tunnel or stuck at the station?
Following the recent Tory election victory, where seats were secured in a number of traditional Labour strongholds, the Government's attention appears to have once again turned to the North.  As the Country awaits the March 2020 budget announcement, this blog looks at some of the potential benefits of proposed transport infrastructure provision in the north, and the implications for its delivery. One of the key issues in the North is inadequate transport connectivity which acts as a barrier to attracting investment.  This also means that firms cannot tap into the labour market and get the skilled workers they need.  A number of infrastructure initiatives are proposed to help address this issue including Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 and these initiatives have been carried forward into a range of strategies and transport plans. For example, the Transport for the North [TfN] Strategic Transport Plan sets a number of objectives to achieve a vison of “a thriving North of England, where world class transport supports sustainable economic growth, excellent quality of life and improved opportunities for all” [1] including increasing efficiency, reliability, integration, and resilience in the transport system. It seeks to realise the benefits of agglomeration and economic mass, in the North by providing faster, more efficient, reliable and sustainable journeys on the road and rail networks. Under the transformational growth scenario outlined in the plan, it notes that growth is expected in high and medium-skilled occupations (an increase of 35,300 and 1,600 jobs per annum by 2050, respectively). In addition, the Greater Manchester Strategy, which provides a framework for the Local Industrial Strategy, states that it will capitalise on the investment planned at Manchester Airport, including the arrival of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, to strengthen Greater Manchester as an internationally competitive employment location. It emphasises the importance of delivering this infrastructure in order for Greater Manchester to achieve economic growth and states[2]: “Given the decision to withdraw from the European Union, we need to focus on maximising our existing competitive advantages.  Greater Manchester has always been an outward looking city with a rich history of global trade and welcoming of diversity and talent. Remaining open, international and connected will be ever more important in the coming years. As the heart and driver of the Northern Powerhouse economy, we need to prepare for, and take advantage of, the transformational opportunities major infrastructure improvements, such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, will provide”. The Strategy notes that a skilled workforce is essential to deliver the key infrastructure projects on which prosperity depends. It emphasises the need to bring together policies and investments around housing and transport to create inclusive, sustainable, growth locations. To provide one example of the amount of employment which may be generated by these strategic infrastructure improvements, GMCA growth and reform plans [3] suggest that the HS2 hub at Piccadilly station has the potential to create 30,000 additional jobs in the immediate vicinity of the station. We are also seeing initiatives in the wider North West to help maximise the benefits of new infrastructure provision, such as the Crewe Hub Area Action Plan, which establishes a development framework to facilitate and manage development around a future HS2 station within the town. The proposals include a new commercial district, mixed use commercial and residential development within walking distance of the station, advanced digital infrastructure and vastly improved physical connectivity to the station, supported by environmental and social infrastructure. Development strategies suggest growth at Crewe of around 7,000 new homes and 37,00 new jobs by 2043 as part of this process. Source: The Potential of Northern Powerhouse Rail – Transport for the North However, there is a long way to go and those with experience of using the northern rail network will be familiar with delays, slow services, and poor carriage quality which have contributed to the Government’s recent decision to nationalise Northern Rail. This does however help create new possibilities for the future of services in the northern franchise area.    One of the key initiatives for ensuring that sub-regional connectivity is improved is Northern Powerhouse Rail.  This would offer much faster, more frequent and reliable rail links and open up new opportunities for people and businesses by linking the North’s six main cities. At the moment, fewer than 2 million people in the North can access four or more of the North’s largest economic centres within an hour. This would rise to 10 million once Northern Powerhouse Rail is delivered; transforming the job market and giving businesses access to skilled workers.  The Prime Minister recently gave his backing for the Leeds to Manchester route which would reduce travel time between the two cities from 50 minutes to less than 30.  Major upgrades to four stations, the electrification of lines and the installation of more railway tracks are part of a planned £2.9bn upgrade of the route.  Whilst this has been greeted with optimism from some, Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has questioned the focus on Transpennine connectivity over routes linking Liverpool and Manchester. The delivery of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, in tandem, would arguably do most to achieve economic prosperity and continue to encourage investment in northern businesses.  However, it is still not certain whether either scheme will fully deliver.  The cost of HS2 in particular has been subject to criticism from some quarters recently, perhaps most vociferously from Lord Berkeley, the former deputy chair of the Oakervee Review into HS2, who, in his own review of the scheme has claimed the project costs are likely to soar to more than £108 billion.  This is almost double from the £56bn expected in 2015.  So, it is no surprise to learn that the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, requested more data before making a decision on the scheme.  There are currently various levels of commitment to each section of HS2 and the future of the whole network is uncertain. For example, the Rail Reform and High Speed Rail 2 (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, which gives the powers to build and operate Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe, passed through the House of Commons and had completed Second Reading in the House of Lords before the dissolution of the previous Parliament, and was covered in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. However, reference to Phase 2b, the eastern link of the route, connecting the East Midlands into Yorkshire, was absent in the Queen’s Speech and there have been media reports that Phase 2b could be dropped.  A decision on the future of HS2 is expected imminently.  The fate of other schemes has still also yet to be sealed.  For example, the proposed £560m ‘Northern Hub’ to increase capacity within a bottleneck at Manchester Piccadilly station, first announced by George Osborne in 2014, has yet to reach fruition. Over the coming weeks and when the Chancellor’s budget is revealed on 11th March it should hopefully become clearer whether there is a light at the end of the tunnel or whether we will still be stuck at the station. [1] Transport for the North Strategic Transport Plan, page 6[2] Our People, Our Place: The Greater Manchester Strategy §6.2[3] A Plan for Growth and Reform in Greater Manchester, March 2014


Drones, airports and an already constrained airspace: are the latest government proposals enough?
Last week, for the second time in less than a month, flights at a major London airport were halted by drone activity. On 8th January flights out of Heathrow Airport were suspended for over an hour, following drone sightings. Between 19th and 21st December, the runway at Gatwick Airport was closed for nearly 36 hours after drones were reported over the airfield, with flights unable to take-off or land. At Gatwick, as the world’s busiest single-runway airport and on one of its busiest days of the year, there were estimates of 140,000 passengers that were due to use the airport being affected. The media, aviation sector and public have all watched with interest. Malicious use or otherwise, this is clearly a very serious ongoing issue whereby substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of two major international airports. Questions have been raised: why was it apparently so easy to shut a British airport with a drone, what controls are there to avoid it happening in the future, and can drones actually co-exist with existing operations in our airspace? To add to the drama, the Heathrow Airport drone sighting followed only days after announcements by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, of plans for further drone regulation.  In a previous blog of June last year, I set out the current policy and regulatory framework and explained new laws for drone operators. Announced in May 2018, the new laws came into force in part from July 2018 with the remaining provisions coming into force on 30 November 2019[1]. At the time of announcing the new laws, Government said that these new measures, alongside an upcoming draft Drones Bill, would be the first step in setting the UK on a path to be a global leader in the drones use, tackling misuse to build public confidence in drone technology and encourage positive, innovative drone use in the UK – stating ‘ensuring drones are being used safely will pave the way for the devices to play an increasingly important role in society, and demonstrating that the industry can operate safely will be key to its advancement’. So, what’s next for government to ensure this societal and safety objective – and within the context of these drone incidents? Last summer, Government published a consultation paper ‘Taking flight: the future of drones in the UK’, seeking views on proposed legislation regarding the use of drones. Government also released a Drones and Other Unmanned Aircraft Bill impact assessment. The consultation period ran from July to September 2018 and detailed a number of proposed policies, including: a minimum age requirement for operators for small unmanned aircraft; whether the 1km flight restriction around protected aerodromes is sufficient; proposals to mandate and regulate a Flight Information and Notification System (FINS) as part of future unmanned traffic management and airspace modernisation programme; the powers required by enforcement bodies in order to properly police drone use and penalise incorrect use; and counter drone technology system proposals. The consultation also looked ahead on how counter-drone technology could be used as a means of addressing the potential threat malicious misuse of drones can pose; and the estimated growth in numbers of commercial drones in the UK over future years. On 7th January, Government published its response to this consultation. The response outlined government’s decisions, in particular, to legislate to give the police greater powers to tackle drone misuse, including the power to issue on the spot fines, and to better protect airports by extending the area around airports and runways in which drones are banned. There will be new powers for the police to order an operator to ground a drone if it’s deemed necessary. The police will also be able to seize drone parts, to prove the drone has been used to commit a criminal offence. This all builds on the new laws announced last year. The Heathrow drone sighting occurred the day after this government announcement, reinforcing just how important these new measures are and the need to implement them into legislation as soon as practicably possible. By the end of the week, the Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg met UK airport bosses to discuss the technology already in use and how airports can strengthen their defences. Government has now said that it is considering implementation of military-grade anti-drone equipment at all major UK airports, as well as other critical infrastructure such as power stations and prisons. However, cost will no doubt be an issue. In the aftermath of the Gatwick drone incident, it was reported that the airport installed a £1million protection system, comprising 360-degree radar and thermal imaging systems, as well as a radio jammer. An airport’s security ‘fence’ will no longer be just the standard 1.8m chain link fence around an airport boundary. While big airports like Gatwick and Heathrow may be able to meet the cost of several million for drone protection, smaller operators will not have that luxury, potentially simply shifting the problem to the places that are less able to deal with it. Are these plans enough? Until now, Government has followed a light touch approach and the only legislation that has so far been passed focuses on regulating the drone user. Will this latest round of proposed regulation, combined with that announced last year, provide sufficient checks and controls to mitigate against another Heathrow/Gatwick drone incident? The Aviation Strategy Green Paper consultation ‘Aviation 2050 — the future of UK aviation consultation’, which commenced in December 2018, and the House of Commons 2nd reading of the Drones (Regulation) Bill 2017-19, which is expected sometime this year, should build on this work to date. As drones continue to play an increasingly important role in our society there will be pressures placed on our airspace and there is a growing need to understand how current users and new users (drones and other unmanned aircraft) can co-exist, and co-exist in an already constrained environment. The potential of drone technology to aid the way we live, work and play is wide-ranging, offering so much more than solely a recreational application. The Heathrow/Gatwick incidents must not prejudice its future. What is certain is that regulation and policy must continue to play catch-up, and then in consultation with industry, anticipate innovations in advancing technologies; safety must continue to be its focus. This includes aerodrome safeguarding and facilitating an airspace that can benefit all. Failure to do so will likely lead to another airport shutdown, or at its worst, a major aviation disaster.   [1] Announced 30 May 2018. In force in part from 30 July 2018 with the remaining from 30 November 2019, in an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016 (The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018.