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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] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/623/contents/made 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.  

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BIDs mean Business (Improvement Districts)
Last week I attended the National BID Conference 2018, hosted by the British BIDs network, where delegates engaged in a lively debate on the key issues facing Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across the country, and how places need to evolve to survive. It seems timely therefore to reflect on the growth of UK BIDs in recent years, and the opportunities they present for those working in planning and economic development. Originating in North America, Business Improvement Districts are partnerships between local authorities and local businesses whereby businesses within a defined area or ‘district’ pay a levy to local authorities. The levy income allows members to benefit from shared services such as street management, security and investment in green infrastructure which can often be under-resourced within conventional local authority budgets. According to there are currently 305 BIDs operating in the UK and Ireland, a figure which has tripled since 2010. The map below shows that BIDs are mostly concentrated within large cities and major town centres, a reflection of the fact that BIDs are commonly town centre- It also shows that BIDs tend to be most common in parts of London, the South East and Midlands. The Capital now accommodates some 50 BIDs, with a particular concentration of town centre-focused BIDs in central London, and some industrial BIDs in Outer London Boroughs. London-based BIDs generate some of the highest levy incomes, for example, London’s New West End Company generated levy payments of over £3.8 million last year. Given these potential annual levy incomes, BIDs are being increasingly recognised as key drivers of growth and regeneration for town centres. Beyond the traditional ‘basket and bins’ approach of providing flower baskets and waste management, BIDs are now turning their attention to a wider range of place-making interventions. For instance, Lichfields has been working with the Manor Royal BID in Crawley to assess the Business District’s economic impact as well as advising on how Manor Royal can retain its competitive position as a premier business location following a successful ballot renewal in March this year. This includes provision of facilities, wider promotion, enhancements to the public realm and continued efforts by the Manor Royal BID to represent and co-ordinate activities across the Business District. Our final report and set of recommendations can be read here. Whilst BIDs have continued to grow both in number and economic contribution, this year’s national survey of BIDs identified two emerging challenges of particular relevance to the development sector: the changing nature of retail, and the nature of engagement with the planning system. Besides the large-scale shifts from ‘bricks to clicks’ (a trend towards shopping online rather than in store), BIDs are also experiencing challenges from everyday activities such as safety, security and falling business rates arising from increased vacancy in town centres. To help tackle these issues, the Autumn Budget announced a £675 million Future High Streets Fund, and a High Street Taskforce which will be deployed to help local areas respond to their unique challenges. BIDs will likely play a critical role. It is also clear that planning remains a central issue for BIDs, with just over 20% of BIDs reporting some involvement with Neighbourhood Planning, indicating much greater scope for involvement. Many BIDs have also strongly lobbied for their local authority to implement Article 4 Directions to prevent the ongoing erosion of office space in town centres, particularly where this has negatively affected the day-time economy and town centre footfall. These issues could be resolved by working more closely with local planners, urban designers and developers and by demonstrating the tangible impact and contribution generated by the BID business community for the local economy. BIDs have grown quickly in a relatively short period of time, and it is clear that they are here to stay. As an increasingly significant player in local economic growth and town centre revitalisation, they will become an increasingly important stakeholder within planning and economic development; after all, BIDs mean business.  

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