In our final report from Transport Times’ Great Transport Debate we focus on aviation. For airports the big question is whether Heathrow or Gatwick will be chosen as the site for a new runway. Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow strategy, planning and regulation director, outlined the case for more capacity at the UK’s hub airport.

The UK is losing the race for connections to China, she said. China would in due course be the world’s largest economy, but the UK had fewer direct flights there than Amsterdam, and a fifth of the air cargo capacity that Germany has.

“We have 20 times as much trade with countries to which we have direct links,” she said. Four out of five of the UK’s long haul flights operate from Heathrow. As a hub it offers the widest choice of long-haul destinations. There is spare runway capacity in south-east England but a shortage of hub capacity.

The Airports Commission had said that the benefits of siting a new runway at Heathrow were greater than elsewhere. Expanding Heathrow would generate twice the economic benefits of expansion at Gatwick and would create three times the number of jobs outside London and the South East than elsewhere. Chambers of Commerce across the UK supported expansion at Heathrow.

Ms Gilthorpe added that Heathrow was better connected. 12 million people lived within 30 minutes of the airport. Public transport capacity from each point of the compass is being increased by Crossrail, improvements to the Piccadilly Line, the planned western rail expansion scheme and others. Heathrow had a surface transport strategy designed to ensure there would be no additional traffic on the roads as a result of expansion.

On noise, Ms Gilthorpe said “We’ve worked hard to come up with a proposal that reduces or mitigates noise.” Aircraft would be quieter and approaches over less populous areas had been chosen. She added that even around Heathrow the majority of residents now support expansion by a margin of 49% to 32%, with 19% neutral, according to a survey.

For Gatwick, chief financial officer Nick Dunn said: “Our vision is of two world-class airports helping London to connect to the world. We can generate real competition.”

He added that over 40% of passengers travel to Gatwick via its main line rail connection, operated by Southern. A 30-minute direct link to Victoria allows the whole of London to be accessed within an hour, he said. The Gatwick scheme “can be fully privately financed at half the cost and a fraction of the environmental impact of the Heathrow option”, he said.

Most of the growth in air passenger demand to 2050 – 56 million passengers – would come from short-haul destinations to Europe. Long-haul flights to the US would increase by 26 million and emerging markets 23 million.

“Whatever solution is adopted must take all this into account, and address the whole of the problem,” Mr Dunn said.

“Gatwick is inherently low cost and low risk, and the second runway would be built on a greenfield site,” said Mr Dunn. Capacity would be phased to match growth in passenger numbers. A £3bn phase one (from a total of £8bn), comprising the runway, a terminal and surface access, could be operational by 2025. Heathrow’s scheme, he said, would cost £20bn just for the runway and a terminal. This was comparable with Crossrail and is more than twice as much as the London Olympics.

For Gatwick only 30,000 people would be brought within the 55dB noise contour after expansion, compared with 320,000 at Heathrow.

Ms Gilthorpe responded that Heathrow was experienced in raising finance internationally and said that the project cost would not be an issue. On the contrary, she said, “Gatwick is underestimating the difficulty of the project.”

To suggestions that Gatwick’s single rail link was a disadvantage, Mr Dunn responded that over the current five year control period Network Rail was investing significantly in the corridor. “It’s one corridor but with multiple lines,” he said. “The reliability of the line over the next five years will be massively improved. The West End and the City will be within 30 minutes travel,” he said. There will be direct links from 175 stations to Gatwick.

Reference: Transport Times, April 2015 Issue

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