Surface transport to airports Contents


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.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 24 February 2016