Why Civil Servants Were Right to Insist on Consultation on a 3rd Heathrow Runway

Civil Servants seem to be getting a kicking from Conservatives at the moment.  Both from number 10 and influential backbenchers such as Douglas Carswell who want to see an insurrectionary style overthrow of power away from civil servants.  (by the way Douglas this Blog is heading to exceed your monthly hit rate within the next few weeks and I am not even a MP).

Civil servants however primarily raise concerns because policy proposed has no evidence to back it up, would be impractical in implementation or would be illegal and bound to be overturned at some point in the courts.  The real danger is replacement of a fiercely non partisan corps of public servants with a tribe of yes people who would stumble from one policy omnishambles to another.

One good example of this is the forthcoming airports White Paper.  With a third runway ruled out in the coalition agreement Ministers were furious that Civil servants strongly recommended that it e included as an option.  It now appears that this will be an option.


The government will not block BAA from submitting proposals for a third Heathrow runway in a forthcoming revamp of policy on aviation hubs, in a move that heads off the threat of legal action by the airport owner.

A senior representative of the London mayor, Boris Johnson, said the government would allow BAA to push for expansion of Britain’s largest airport. Daniel Moylan, the mayor’s aviation policy chief, said it did not mean a third runway was back on the government’s policy agenda.

“Boris Johnson understands that for legal reasons the government is going to have to allow examination of every option. But this should not be taken as expressing a preference for a third runway,” said Moylan….

The government is launching two aviation documents in July: a consultation on a “sustainable aviation framework”; and a request for options on maintaining airport hubs in the UK. If BAA lobbies for a third runway through the latter, according to one industry source, the government could use the principles established in the sustainable aviation study to rule it out emphatically or resurrect it.

“If a third runway at Heathrow can meet requirements for a sustainable aviation policy, it will be sifted through for consideration. If it cannot, it will be sifted out. That is a robust and entirely legal position to take,” said the source.

A senior aviation industry source said the options document would allow for a third runway submission, amid speculation that BAA will seek a judicial review if it is barred from submitting an argument for expansion. “The document will be carefully worded so as not to exclude any potential options for increasing hub airport capacity,” said the source.

The Department for Transport said the government remained against a third runway. “The coalition’s position regarding Heathrow has not changed,” it said.

The legal position is very clear and simple.  The EU SEA directive requires evaluation and ‘early consultation on ‘reasonable alternative options’ for strategies leading to development consents.  The previous government had been stung before on not including expansion of Gatwick in a previous airports white paper.  Im sure civil servants would also have been brefing ministers of the implications of the key case on consultation on National Policy Greenpeace v DTI  that you can’t be seen to have made your mind up before the consultation has even begun.

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