Surface transport to airports report published by Transport Committee

The Commons Select Committee on Transport has published its report on “Surface Transport to Airports.”  This says Government failure to take a clear lead on integrated transport planning is a major obstacle to better surface access to the UK’s airports. They urge Government to set out an integrated transport plan which connects airports across the country, “boosting regional access and economic development.” The Committee looked at UK airports with over one million passengers per year. They believe that poor surface access restricts growth, adversely affects the passenger experience and forces airport users, local commuters and airport employees to choose to use cars to get to the airport, exacerbating local environmental concerns. [Heathrow and Gatwick were not the key focus of the inquiry.]  The report says a lack of leadership on strategic planning, and a lack of co-ordination. They say the lack of a decision over airport capacity in the south east means that it is difficult to see how regional airports fit into the national picture. [Deciding once and for all not to build a new runway would make the situation clearer? AW] The report recommends that the forthcoming draft National Policy Statement on airports should contain policy on the surface access implications of long-term airport capacity, and this should include measures for improving access to airports that have existing spare capacity.




Surface transport to airports report published by Transport Committee

26.2.2016 (Transport Select Committee website)

The Transport Committee publishes a report saying that Government failure to take a clear lead on integrated transport planning is a major obstacle to better surface access to the UK’s airports. The Committee urges Government to set out an integrated transport plan which connects airports across the country, boosting regional access and economic development.


In an inquiry looking at UK airports with one million passengers or more per annum, MPs agreed poor surface access restricts growth, adversely affects passenger experience and forces airport users, local commuters and airport employees to choose transport which exacerbates environmental concerns.

The inquiry revealed a lack of leadership on strategic planning.  Heathrow and Gatwick were not the key focus of the inquiry. However, the lack of a decision over airport capacity in the south east means that it is difficult to see how regional airports fit into the national picture.

The devolution agenda has the potential to improve local planning and economic development. However, Network Rail and Highways England must play their part: how they prioritise airport access schemes is vital to allow local areas to plan and develop effectively. Whether by road or rail, people should be able to choose forms of transport which deliver on ease of travel as well as environmental grounds.

The respective roles and responsibilities of the National Infrastructure Commission, Transport for the North, combined authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships must be clarified. This is particularly important to ensure that advances such as integrated ticketing, can be implemented for the full benefit of passengers.

Chair’s comments

Launching the report, the Chair of the Transport Committee, Louise Ellman MP, said:

“Our inquiry highlights the failure to develop an integrated approach to transport planning, from the absence of a decision on airport expansion in the South East, to the lack of a clear plan to upgrade our rail infrastructure which effectively links cities and airports across the north.

“Without a vision for the country, local areas and regional airports cannot be expected to deliver their own plans effectively. When a decision is finally made about airport expansion in the South East, this must be accompanied by a clear plan to optimise connectivity between regional transport hubs across the country. This will provide much needed national coherence on transport planning matters.

“Government should take the lead in identifying and realising the economic benefits of improved surface access around airports. Where there is compelling evidence that airport expansion would act as a catalyst for significant local, and in some cases national, economic growth, the necessary support and coordination should be provided.”



The Report’s Summary says: 


Good surface access to airports is crucial. Where it works well, it can have significant positive impacts, both economically and environmentally. Limited or poor surface access can constrain growth, adversely affect the passenger experience, and force passengers, employees and freight operators to choose modes of travel to and from airports that exacerbate environmental problems and congestion.

In the last Parliament, the Transport Committee recommended that the Government should develop a coherent strategy to improve road and rail access to the UK’s major airports, and stressed the need for greater connectivity between airports outside South East England.

Our inquiry shows that Government has made little headway with this agenda. The absence of a decision on airport expansion in the South East is a major obstruction to progress, and without a master plan for the country, the regions cannot be expected to deliver effectively their own pieces of the jigsaw.

Government must take a clear lead on integrated transport planning which will benefit airports and the country as a whole. The Government is working on a draft National Policy Statement on airports.

While, for the Government, this is driven primarily by the need to deal with airport expansion in South East England, the NPS must help to clarify how planning decisions will be made in relation to surface access improvements.

Decisions about new transport infrastructure need to be taken far enough in advance that their implications can be taken into account in local development plans.

Network Rail, Highways England and their counterparts across the rest of the UK should reflect these decisions in their long-term plans and funding commitments.

Government, local authorities and airports need to do more to encourage modal shift from private vehicles to public transport, particularly rail. The Department should have a strategic plan for modal shift across the Strategic Road Network which underpins the development of national transport networks as well as airport Surface Access Strategies.

In terms of accountability, Airport Master Plans and Surface Access Strategies provide a useful policy lever, but are not subject to sufficient scrutiny. The Government should look again at institutional and governance changes to ensure that airport operators are working towards ambitious and realistic targets, and are held to account for their delivery.

The devolution agenda stands to improve local planning and economic development. Some Local Enterprise Partnerships have proved to be very effective in developing local economies. However, as more devolution deals are struck, we are concerned that a potentially complex and confused picture is emerging as to how significant transport projects will be delivered. Some of the most important factors in improving surface access to airports—such as integrated ticketing across different modes of transport—will require a tightly coordinated approach.

Under the patchwork of combined authorities, statutory transport bodies (including Transport for the North) and the National Infrastructure Commission—all of which have responsibility for aspects of regional connectivity and smart ticketing—it is difficult to see where any ultimate decision-making power lies and how funding streams will be accessed.

Major cross-boundary transport projects will not, in all likelihood, make progress unless the responsibilities and powers of all the different actors are clarified. With different devolution deals across the country these will vary from place to place; which could be more challenging for the national network operators who may have different levels of responsibility in different parts of the country. The Government needs to ensure that Transport for the North (and other similar bodies) are given adequate powers to provide effective leadership.

The principle that airports pay for the surface access improvements from which they directly benefit should be retained, but the Government should be clearer about where the boundary lies between this and improvements to rail and road infrastructure adjacent to an airport and within its catchment area.

Where there is compelling evidence that airport expansion would act as a catalyst for significant local economic development, the Government should ensure that local authorities, airports, and the national network operators can work together to identify relevant surface access infrastructure improvements and the means to fund them.


Under the section of the report entitled “Planning for future demand” it says: 

44.  .The predicted pressures on transport networks in the South East are of particular concern. On 18 November 2015, Transport for London warned of congestion “on a scale we have not seen” on road, rail and Tube corridors into central London if a third runway at Heathrow were not supported by “massive” investment to improve surface transport.71 This concern was reflected in evidence from Surrey County Council, which argued that it was essential that the Government and other bodies commit “to funding the core and extended baseline of strategic road and rail improvements identified by the Airports Commission for Heathrow and/or Gatwick to expand”.72
45.   The Airports Commission concluded that, regardless of decisions on airport expansion, “many key road and rail links in the [South East] are expected to be close to capacity by 2030, even assuming the delivery of the Commission’s extended baseline”. It added that the scale of growth in background demand means that all three shortlisted schemes would impact on congestion on most routes and warned that Government will need to take decisive action to address long-term capacity issues arising from background demand growth, regardless of airport expansion. This may involve the provision of “new infrastructure, demand management, or a combination of the two”.73

72 Surrey County Council (STA0046)

73 Airports Commission, Airports Commission: Final Report, July 2015, paras 8.20, 8.25.

Under the section entitled “Who Pays?” the report says:

“76.   Where an airport is privately owned (as nearly every airport in the UK is), there is a well-established principle, reiterated in the Aviation Policy Framework, that the costs of providing or enhancing surface access will be met by the airport operator. In some cases, a degree of public expenditure may be considered. In the case of airport expansion or enhancement, it is assumed that surface access enhancements required to deal with background demand on the transport networks already exist.117 For regulated airports, surface access investment is also subject to CAA price regulation.
79.   In response to these arguments, the Minister warned that airports “will of course be working very hard to make the case for the wider economic benefit to the area, because every penny that comes in from central Government, a local enterprise partnership or a combined authority is a penny less that comes from the airport”.122 The Minister’s view was supported by East Sussex County Council, which argued that “Government needs to ensure that airports should bear the responsibility of covering the majority, if not all, of the costs of transport schemes which are required (in part or in their entirety) as a result of airport expansion”. It added that “an over-reliance on the public purse to fund transport schemes attributable to airport expansion is likely to be to the detriment of funding towards local authority, LEP or Highways England/Network Rail promoted major transport infrastructure schemes which are equally important at supporting growth, creating jobs and providing new homes”. East Sussex Council concluded that “the DfT should liaise with the relevant LEPs to identify which transport schemes are linked to airport growth, and engage with appropriate local authorities to ensure that a joined-up approach between these transport authorities is undertaken”.123 “

Under “State Aid” the report says:

State Aid

“81.    The Airports Commission observed that, if an airport benefits from surface transport paid for by the taxpayer, this “may mean that a contribution from the scheme promoter to these costs is justified.” State Aid rules may also require an airport operator to make an appropriate payment if it benefits from a surface access scheme. The Airports Commission concluded that “the Government would need to reach its own view on the level of public investment that can be justified” for any particular scheme.125

82.The European Commission explains that airports with more than 5MPPA that are planning infrastructure developments can receive state aid only “under very exceptional circumstances”. These “exceptional circumstances” are not clearly defined, but the guidelines explain that these circumstances arise when:

  • there is a clear market failure;
  • it has not been possible to finance investments on capital markets; and
  • where a very high level of positive externalities is associated with the investment.126 “



In the reports Conclusions and Recommendations, it says:


Planning for future demand

6.   We recommend that, in its forthcoming draft National Policy Statement on airports, the Department set out its policy for addressing long-term airport capacity issues and the surface access implications of these. This policy should include measures for improving access to airports with existing spare capacity. (Paragraph 46)

7.We are concerned at the lack of coordination that is sometimes evident when infrastructure operators and local authorities plan renewal and enhancement works to the Strategic Road Network, the local road network adjacent to airports and the rail routes serving airports. The closures of the Gatwick and Heathrow Express services for engineering works over Christmas 2015—and the ensuing disruption to airline passengers—highlighted the importance of having a range of coordinated surface transport options in order to provide adequate resilience in the surface transport network. (Paragraph 47)

8.We recommend that the Department sets out, in its response to this Report, how it expects local authorities, Highways England and Network Rail to cooperate to keep the existing networks operating effectively and what steps it will take towards eliminating planned road and rail closures on the same route at the same time. (Paragraph 47)

……… and there is much, much more.