Essex County Council warns against super-airport at Stansted
Essex County Council has warned the Airports Commission against proposals for an “unwanted and unviable” super-airport at Stansted. It has instead called for greater focus on realistic, affordable and practical options that will allow “sensible growth” in Essex. Earlier this summer, Stansted’s owner, MAG ageed with Boris Johnson that 4 runways at Stansted was one solution to the capacity issue – while stressing that making full use of the low-cost base’s 35 million passengers-a-year single-runway capacity is the priority. In a report published on 24th September ECC said that proposals like closing Heathrow and building 5-runway “super-hub airports”, either at Stansted or in the Thames Estuary, would be too costly and disruptive to deliver. Council leader Cllr David Finch said the UK does not have the time or the money to waste on impractical or undeliverable schemes that could suck up a sum of taxpayers’ money equivalent to twice the UK’s defence budget. Also that Stansted could double its passenger and freight numbers before anyone even thinks of the need for a 2nd runway.
Essex County Council warns against super-airport at Stansted
by MICHAEL JARVIS
It has been asked to make short-term recommendations by the end of December and to provide a long-term plan when it submits its final report in the summer of 2015 – after the next General Election.
Earlier this summer, Stansted’s owner, Manchester Airports Group (MAG), agreed with Mayor of London Boris Johnson that four runways at Stansted was one solution to the capacity issue – while stressing that making full use of the low-cost base’s 35 million passengers-a-year single-runway capacity is the priority.
In a report published today (Tuesday, September 24), ECC said that proposals like closing Heathrow and building five-runway “super-hub airports”, either at Stansted or in the Thames Estuary, would be too costly and disruptive to deliver.
Council leader Cllr David Finch said: “The UK does not have the time or the money to waste on unpractical or undeliverable schemes that could suck up a sum of taxpayers’ money equivalent to twice the UK’s defence budget.
“Any proposal for a giant super-hub airport at Stansted is completely unacceptable to the council and Essex residents.”
While ECC supports sensible growth at Stansted, it does not believe the case for a second runway exists at the moment.
However, it understands that additional runway capacity at airports across the South East – including Gatwick and Stansted – is likely to be inevitable in the long term.
Cllr Finch added: “Stansted has the scope to more than double its annual passenger and freight numbers before anyone even thinks of the need for a second runway, but this commission has to look at long-term options and we have to be realistic about that.
“If ministers in London do impose further capacity on our airport, they need to know that a bill comes with that.
“We would need assurances that the environmental impact would be minimised and that there would be massive investment in road and rail infrastructure for Essex.”
In July, Uttlesford District Council – the planning authority for Stansted Airport – similarly looked to ground fears that Stansted could become a four-runway airport.
Deputy leader Cllr Jackie Cheetham, who chairs the Stansted Airport Advisory Panel, said: “The council feels the commission should be doing more to encourage a national solution to this issue rather than focusing on meeting demand in the South East, as it is doing at present.
“The new owners at Stansted have made it clear that they regard utilising the unused capacity at existing airports as the best solution for air passengers. The council thinks this is a sensible approach.
“Stansted has planning permission to accommodate 35 million passengers a year but is currently handling around 17.7 million, so it could double the number of passengers without needing to expand.
“We have long campaigned for improved rail connections to the airport and faster journey times to London. In our view there would need to be a commitment to provide these ahead of any increase in passengers, let alone any possible future expansion. This would have to be done in a way that didn’t adversely affect rail services for other non-airport travellers and commuters.”
Cllr Cheetham added: “It is worth pointing out that the Government is several years away from making any decision regarding the Commission’s findings and that airport operators are many years away from acting on any policy decisions that may arise from them.”
Stansted’s biggest customer, Irish low-cost airline Ryanair, has recommended that all three London airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – be allowed to add an extra runway “at the earliest possible date” and rubbished any new greenfield airport plan such as “Boris Island”.
Boss Michael O’Leary said: “Three new runways at the three competing London airports is the only sensible and consumer-focused solution to the chronic runway capacity shortages in London and the South East.
“We cannot wait 30 years and allow billions of pounds to be wasted on ‘Boris Island’.
“Sadly, the very appointment of the Davies Commission is just the latest example of the spineless approach of David Cameron’s Government, which talks about stimulating growth and job creation, but, instead of pursuing growth policies, panders to tree huggers and Nimbys.”
Last week, it was announced that Ryanair – Stansted’s biggest customer – and MAG had signed a 10-year deal to add an estimated 7,000 new jobs and almost eight million extra passengers.
Under the agreement, Ryanair must deliver an increase in passengers at Stansted of more than 50 per cent – growing from 13.2m today to almost 21m in 2023 – in return for a “modest” discount in fees.
Mr O’Leary made it clear he was prepared to cannibalise Ryanair’s services at other airports to keep his part of the bargain and land an enlarged fleet at the airport from next April – in advance of new aircraft arriving in September.
In all, the low-cost carrier will base 43 aircraft at Stansted, up from 37, servicing 120 routes on more than 2,000 weekly flights and will add Bordeaux, Dortmund, Lisbon and Rabat to its network.
The expansion will also see a change in flying patterns away from the morning and evening peaks to a more even daily distribution as MAG seeks to make full use of Stansted’s single runway.
The Ryanair deal follows June’s agreement with Stansted’s second biggest airline, Easyjet, to grow its traffic from 2.8m travellers a year to six million over the next five years.
Stansted’s managing director, Andrew Harrison, said the latest pact was far from Stansted putting all its eggs in a low-cost basket, but in fact key to unlocking a new phase in the airport’s evolution: Ryanair will work with MAG, using its connectivity to lure long-haul operators to Essex.
“In getting growth with Ryanair, we are setting the scene for the growth in long haul, too,” he said.
MAG’s chief commercial officer, Ken O’Toole, was emphatic: Stansted’s catchment area has 46m passengers but serves just 17m, and his aim was to use MAG’s long-haul contacts at Manchester, where 80 airlines operate, to go head to head with Heathrow and Gatwick.
He said: “We acquired Stansted in February believing we could significantly expand the services on offer by competing more effectively to make the most of the airport’s untapped potential and spare capacity.
“MAG wants to make Stansted the best airport in London, so we will continue to compete hard to win business from airlines in our drive for passenger growth and to provide customers with even more choice.”
The Essex County Council report, submitted to the Airports Commission, called “Flights of fancy; getting real on aviation” is at http://www.essex.gov.uk/News/Documents/ECC_Davies_Commission_Response.pdf
Sadly, Essex County Council has been nimby and passed the buck to Heathrow saying Heathrow should continue as main hub + build a 3rd runway
“Essex County Council therefore believes that Heathrow remains a viable option and that it is well-placed to continue its status as the UK’s effective hub airport through provision of a third runway.”