Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Kent County Council (AS 61)

1. Summary

1.1 Kent County Council (KCC) welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to this enquiry and will focus its submission on addressing Question 2 that relates to airport capacity. KCC is disappointed that the current Government consultation on its draft Aviation Policy Framework does not address the critical issue of how to provide the additional capacity to support aviation growth. Given the existing capacity issues at Heathrow, quick decisions on short, medium and long term interventions are vital if we are to retain hub status in the UK. That means decisions now, not in a few years' time.

1.2 KCC welcomes that the House of Commons Transport Select Committee is seeking to address this issue and has invited this submission of evidence. It is essential that the independent cross-party commission that will report to Government on the issue of maintaining the UK's aviation hub status also invites submissions and considers a wide range of evidence in its assessment of the options for airport development.

1.3 In making this response KCC wishes to express its full endorsement of the response made to this Committee by Medway Council and fully supports the case presented therein.

1.4 KCC advocates that the UK can meet its aviation needs through the connection of Gatwick and Heathrow with a high speed rail connection in order to link them operationally into a "virtual hub". This Heathwick link would provide both an airside and non-airside service. Better use of other London and regional airports, including Stansted, Luton, Southampton, Birmingham, Manston, Southend to a lesser extent London City and Lydd; and improved connections of these airports with London.

1.5 Kent County Council wishes to make the House of Commons Transport Select Committee aware that it recommends to Government in its discussion document Bold Steps for Aviation:

The construction of Heathwick, a high speed rail link connecting Gatwick and Heathrow providing both airside and non-airside services.

Improved rail connectivity of secondary London and regional airports—Manston (which will have a new railway station and connection into HS1 in the short term), Lydd, Southend, Stansted, Luton, Southampton and Birmingham with London.

Significant development of those other London and regional airports with the most potential for growth such as Stansted, Luton, Southampton, Southend and Manston Airport, and to lesser extent London City and Lydd; and also those outside of the South East with good rail connections to London, ie Birmingham.

Capacity growth at Gatwick through the addition of a second runway after 2019.

Any proposals for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary are not progressed any further for the reasons robustly presented in the response by Medway Council to this Committee.

1.6 Action to address capacity issues must been taken quickly. Better use of our existing hub and regional airports now will ensure that the UK retains its premier position as an aviation hub.

2. Question 2: How should we make the best use of existing aviation capacity?

a. How do we make the best use of existing London airport capacity?

2.1 Although London's airports are relatively well connected to central London via the strategic road and rail networks, they are poorly connected to each other. This impacts negatively on the extent to which existing airport capacity can be maximised as part of an "airport system" approach. In 2007, around 1.5 million passengers connected between flights at different London airports; of these, the greatest proportion travelled between Heathrow and Gatwick. However, there is no direct rail service between them and, whilst the motorway route is regularly served by express coach services, journey times are unreliable. Without sustained investment in transport infrastructure, there is little scope for London's airports to act in a more coordinated way.

2.2 A high-speed rail link, with an estimated travel time of 15 minutes, between Gatwick and Heathrow would effectively provide a hub airport with easy access to central London. This would complement the Crossrail connectivity already planned between London and Heathrow and also High Speed Two (HS2) connecting Birmingham Airport with both central London and Heathrow.

2.3 The cost of providing the high speed rail link between the two airports would be approximately £5.5billion, based on the unit costs of the current HS2 programme, and could be completed within five to ten years. This Heathwick service would have an airside connection which will provide a high speed link for interlining passengers and in effect operating as a single hub site currently does at the moment. This offers a more cost effective and time efficient option to that of a building an entirely new hub airport. The success of connecting these two airports would be dependent on refocused use of the airports, increased use of regional airports and a further runway at Gatwick.

2.4 A more strategic approach to managing our airports as a system should be applied, focussing charter, low-cost and short haul point to point flights at currently under-used regional airports; thereby freeing up capacity to allow Heathrow to take more long haul flights. Regional and other secondary London airports considered appropriate for this use include Manston, Lydd, London City, Southend, Stansted, Luton, Southampton and Birmingham. With Gatwick and Heathrow linked by a high speed rail line, Gatwick could exist as a feeder airport, with Heathrow focussing on long haul.

2.5 Airlines would be incentivised to use alternative airports if they had to pay the market value for slots at Heathrow rather than the current system of "grandfather" rights and secondary trading. This would encourage airlines to operate from regional airports whilst freeing up capacity at Heathrow and therefore allowing it to focus on higher value long haul flights; with lower value short haul operating out of the other secondary airports serving London and the South East. In order to facilitate this, regulation of slot allocation is required and although KCC welcomes the Government's support for the recommendations of the European Commission's Better Airports Package (2011) to ensure that slots at our congested airports are used in the most economically beneficial way for the UK; KCC urges that the Government explores options for a transparent market based approach to slot allocation to encourage the more efficient use of scarce capacity at Heathrow and dispersal of airline demand to other airports. This requires more than optimisation of the secondary trading market as alluded to in the Government's draft Aviation Policy Framework, but rather may require direct intervention and regulation to ensure that airlines are financially discouraged to use an airport where capacity is scarce. Airlines would then benefit financially to relocate to where there is available capacity, thus the London airport system would be better utilised collectively to accommodate demand.

2.6 The increased use of regional airports is in line with Government's draft policy framework and legislation on emissions reduction; while also addressing the need for growth and jobs creation in the South East and other areas across the UK.

2.7 In Kent, Manston Airport has the potential to make a significant contribution, providing excellent connections to European destinations and reduced flight times. Manston has one of the longest runways in the UK (at 2,752 metres) and is therefore able to cater for all modern jet aircraft. The airport operates in uncrowded airspace outside of the London Control Zone, and has sufficient capacity for the 5–6 mppa and 400,000 tonnes of freight anticipated by the Airport Master Plan by 2033. Its local environmental impacts are greatly reduced by its location on the Thanet Peninsula, with much of its uncrowded flight path located over water to the east of Ramsgate. There is a fully-equipped passenger terminal facility with a capacity of around 1 mppa subject to the aircraft used and scheduling arrangements.

2.8 Manston would strongly complement Heathrow and Gatwick as they increasingly focus on accommodating long-haul flights at the expense of domestic and near-European services. Development of Manston as a regional airport would create employment opportunities in one of England's most disadvantaged areas; the airport's Master Plan forecast for 2033 would see up to 6,000 additional direct and indirect jobs within the area, development for which is generally supported by the local community. A new rail station serving the airport and providing a HS1 service connection will significantly boost the ability for the airport to provide a leading regional air service. Such a service will in effect mean that Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Manston will all be connected by high speed rail services offering a highly flexible and resilient UK air function. It is essential that Manston's future as an airport is secured through new ownership as its current owners have placed the asset on the market.

2.9 Table 1 shows how using the combined collective capacity, together with providing additional runway and/or terminal capacity at some of the existing airports; and relaxing operational restrictions at Heathrow, ie allowing mixed mode operations; would provide sufficient capacity to meet passenger demand for aviation in the South East without the need for new hub airport.

2.10 As table 1 shows, there is potentially in excess of 198 mppa available capacity from airports with good connections to London through more efficient use of existing airports and increasing the runway and/or terminal capacities at some of those existing sites. This compares favourably with the Thames Estuary airport proposal, which would be capable of serving 150 mppa. Furthermore, airports such as Liverpool, Doncaster and Blackpool could collectively accommodate tens of millions of extra passengers a year.

2.11 In addition to meeting capacity needs, better utilisation of our regional airports would result in the creation of much needed employment opportunities. Table 1 shows if we invest in and make better use of our regional airports we could potentially see some further 198,000 job opportunities shared across the region.

Table 1


Current capacity


Current usage



Available capacity (2011)


Potential additional capacity with new runway and/or terminal development


Potential future additional (spare) capacity


Potential additional jobs to be created by future additional capacity1





























London City

















































2.12 Lydd Airport, near Ashford in Kent, is awaiting the decision of a Public Inquiry to permit a runway extension and new terminal that would allow it to accommodate up to half a million passengers per annum with an aspiration to reach 2 mppa. With improved connections to the high speed international station at Ashford, the airport would be within an hour's travel time of London.

2.13 The Stobart Group has invested significantly in Southend Airport with a new terminal and rail station providing rail connectivity to London in under an hour. The completed runway extension will now allow the airport to grow to accommodate up to 2 mppa and a major low-cost carrier has already relocated services from Stansted to Southend.

2.14 Stansted is also operating under capacity by 17 mppa and could therefore meet some of the demand without any need for further development. With either a relocated or realigned runway, Luton could also increase its capacity to 31 mppa.

2.15 The potential for Gatwick and Heathrow to complement each other as connected airports can only be realised if a second runway is provided at Gatwick when the present moratorium on planning expires in 2019. Capacity growth at Gatwick represents a more acceptable long-term solution than expansion at Heathrow, due to the significantly lower number of people that would be over flown by arriving and departing aircraft, the relatively good rail and road access enjoyed by Gatwick, and the huge economic benefits that this solution would bring to deprived communities in Kent, Sussex and South London. The owners of Gatwick Airport have recently announced their intention to begin work on proposals for a second runway (BBC, 17 October 2012).

3. b. Does the Government's current strategy make the best use of existing capacity at airports outside the south east? How could this be improved?

3.1 KCC welcomes the Government's intended strategy as described in its draft Aviation Policy Framework to make better use of existing capacity at regional airports outside of the South East; and its intention to align its national strategies for aviation and high speed rail so that these modes can effectively complement each other. We also welcome its stated support for Birmingham Airport, although we urge that this is taken further to consider incorporating Birmingham as an airport that can serve London and the South East through improved rail connectivity.

3.2 Birmingham Airport's existing runway can take an additional 27 mppa and the current passenger terminal will accommodate another 9 mppa immediately (up to 18 mppa). Journey time from Birmingham Airport to Euston is anticipated to be as little as 59 minutes from 2013, following the introduction of a new rail franchise. Once the initial phase of HS2 between London and the West Midlands has been completed, the airport will be within 31 minutes of the capital's interchange, making it an increasingly realistic alternative to Heathrow and Gatwick for air passengers travelling to and from the South East. The completion of the HS2 network would also link up with Manchester, whose own airport could handle 50 million passengers a year by 2050.

4. c. How can surface access to airports be improved?

4.1 Good surface access to airports, especially through high speed rail services, is key to facilitating the strategic use of airports across the South East, and beyond, as an integrated airport system. High speed rail connections need to facilitate sustainable surface access from population centres of demand to airports and provide connections between airports to enable them to operate as a "virtual hub". KCC advocates that the Government needs to urgently commission a study into the feasibility of a direct high speed rail link between Gatwick and Heathrow. Further work into how airports connected by rail could work operationally as a system would also be welcomed.

4.2 In respect of Manston, the airport enjoys good strategic road links to London and the wider South East via the A299 dual carriageway which joins the M2 motorway. There are also three primary rail routes to Ramsgate, just to the east of Manston, which serve the London termini of St Pancras International via domestic high speed services on High Speed One (HS1), Charing Cross and Victoria, therefore offering a total of five trains per hour during off-peak periods. The link into HS2 will significantly enhance this offer and ensure the potential Manston has to become a strong regional airport is realised.

4.3 However, these connections will need to be improved if Manston is to truly succeed as a regional airport. Research commissioned by KCC (through an EU funded project seeking to improve sustainable surface access to regional airports) reveals evidence that with a fixed rail link passenger numbers increase as it enables a wider catchment of people to use the airport. Newcastle Airport's passenger numbers increased by 27% after the first full operational year of the Metro link to the airport and passenger numbers have continued to grow year on year. A parkway station near to Manston Airport served by high speed rail services to London will increase the attractiveness of the airport to airlines and passengers.

4.4 Line speed enhancements for phase 1 of this route have been secured through a successful Regional Growth Fund bid and should be operational by 2013, with phase 2 complete by 2017, subject to funding from Network Rail. Work is also underway to take forward the provision of the proposed Thanet Parkway rail station serving the airport, which subject to funding, could also be operational by the end of 2017. KCC is also pushing for improved rail connection (using existing lines) between Ashford and Gatwick, which would link Manston to Gatwick, and potentially with Heathrow if the high speed rail link suggested is realised.

5. Conclusion

5.1 The primary interest of Kent County Council in the current aviation debate is to ensure that a Thames Estuary airport does not proceed for the many reasons clearly presented in the Medway Council submission to the Transport Select Committee. An estuary airport is not viable economically, socially or environmentally. Kent County Council instead fully supports aviation growth and hub retention via growth of the many London and regional airports that have significant capacity to expand along with significantly improved rail connections between those airports and the Capital.

5.2 A high speed Heathwick airside rail link, a new runway at Gatwick and vastly improved rail access to those regional airports is a far more deliverable solution in terms of financial viability and delivery timescales. This approach will allow airports such as Manston to fulfil their potential of providing a strong regional function while freeing up capacity at Heathrow to ensure the connections to new and emerging economies that will be vital to UK plc can be made. In doing so both national and regional economies will benefit. This approach is the only realistic and deliverable option if Britain is to address its aviation capacity issues now.

19 October 2012

1 Based on 1mppa creates 1,000 jobs.

2 With "mixed mode" operations on its two existing runways - DfT (2003) The Future Development of Air Transport in the UK: South East, 2nd Edition.

3 With a new wide-spaced runway in addition to the existing runway - DfT (2003) The Future Development of Air Transport in the UK: South East, 2nd Edition.

4 Manston Airport Master Plan (2009).

5 Lydd Airport is currently awaiting the decision of a Public Inquiry to permit runway and terminal extensions to allow 500,000ppa; aspiration for 2mppa.

6 London City Airport Master Plan (2006).

7 With either a relocated or realigned runway - DfT (2003) The Future Development of Air Transport in the UK: South East, 2nd Edition.

8 Pers com with John Morris, Birmingham Airport 20 July 2012.

9 Pers com with John Morris, Birmingham Airport 20 July 2012 - with a new wide-spaced runway in addition to the existing runway; theoretical capacity, building on DfT (2003) The Future Development of Air Transport in the UK and using the same methodology as the Gatwick proposal, for consistency.

Prepared 31st May 2013