The Chancellors comments on reviewing airport capacity in the south east [for which read “expand”] took most by surprise. What could it mean for Gatwick and, by default, Brighton & Hove?
The Mayor of London stole a march on the Chancellor with the publication of his second report into air transport for London [see earlier story] which concluded that the UK economy is doomed without extra capacity. It fell short of recommending his vision for a new airport in the Thames Estuary [that is probably being saved for the third report next year which will look at locations] but firmly concluded that the UK must boost its aviation capacity to hang onto its status as a major international business hub.
In opposition there was considerable political mileage for the Conservative Party in ruling out a third runway at Heathrow and the Chancellor confirmed on Tuesday that it was still not an option. All political parties rule things out at their peril and the ruling is coming back to haunt the Conservatives in the coalition government.
There is a strong lobby that wants to "rule out" all airport expansion on environmental grounds but if the promised government review is genuinely going to look at the options the expansion of Gatwick – the world’s busiest single runway airport – must be in the mix.
In 2009 Gatwick was hived off from BAA and sold to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) [see earlier story] which has invested in the terminal, increased efficiency of runway use, attracted flights to some new destinations and increased passenger numbers but it still lives in the shadow of Heathrow. A legal agreement with West Sussex County Council precludes any airport development before 2019 but that isn’t that far away. Could it be a candidate for a second runway which would deliver the extra capacity at a fraction of the cost of a new airport?
Although it would be an obvious option and it would certainly be a boon to the economy of Brighton & Hove [though not necessarily the environment] it seems unlikely to be the first choice in the review. The whole idea is to maintain London’s reputation as a business hub for airline travellers. Expecting some transit passengers to land at Heathrow and travel to Gatwick to catch a connecting flight on the perilously unpredictable M25 is more third world than 21st Century.
At the same time the colossal sum of money needed to build a new airport, especially in the Thames Estuary, is unlikely to be found in either the public or the private sector. The obvious and cheapest choice, assuming that you support air travel in the first place, is to expand Heathrow with a third runway. In the light of the problems with the UK and wider Eurozone economy [see earlier story] it is probably all academic at least for the next decade.
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