Surface transport to airports Contents

4Planning surface access schemes

The national planning framework

48.The Government does not have an overarching strategy for planning airports and the connections to them, and between them. Various policies relate to the development of airports and their surface access infrastructure. The Government’s 2013 Aviation Policy Framework sets out the Government’s policy “to allow the aviation sector to continue to make a significant contribution to economic growth across the country”74 and commits to supporting the integration of airports in the wider transport network and improving surface access to airports. Specific commitments include:

49.Government can set national policy through National Policy Statements (NPS) and White Papers. The National Networks NPS was designated on 14 January 2015. It sets the policy for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) on the road and rail networks. 76

50.Under the Planning Act 2008, as amended by the Localism Act 2011, the Secretary of State is empowered to publish an NPS on airports, setting out his assessment of the need for NSIPs. In the context of airports, “nationally significant” is defined in legislation as any development that would increase the capacity of an airport by more than 10 MPPA [million passengers per annum] or 10,000 traffic movements. As yet, no NPS on airports exists. However, in his December 2015 statement to Parliament the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, said that: “the mechanism for delivering planning consents for airport expansion will be an airports national policy statement (NPS), following which a scheme promoter would need to apply for a development consent order”.77

51.The Minister told the Committee that the NPS “may have […] knock-on effects for connectivity around the country”.78 The Campaign for Better Transport argued that a future NPS on Airports should be closely integrated with the NPS on National Networks to ensure the country’s airports have adequate public transport connections, including rail. It added that the absence of good existing or potential surface access in plans to increase airport capacity should be a barrier to building additional capacity.79

52.For developments at airports that do not fulfil nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) criteria, planning consent needs to be sought through the Town and Country Planning process, which allows local councils to determine which developments they feel are appropriate for the area and are in line with their Local Development Frameworks and other spatial development plans. NSIPs have a set timeline to follow, but processes under the Town and Country Planning process do not.

53.On 5 October 2015, the Government announced the creation of a new National Infrastructure Commission.80 Its remit is to provide unbiased analysis of the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs and hold the Government to account for non-delivery. Transport infrastructure forms a major part of the Commission’s remit, including:

54.The Commission’s remit will not cover Heathrow and airports in the South East of England more generally, or re-examine the work of the Airports Commission. Several witnesses to our inquiry saw the Commission as key to creating better integration between national networks and airport planning. However, Darren Caplan of the Airport Operators Association expressed concern that the NIC would be focusing only on the North and London, concluding that “if they are a truly national infrastructure commission, they should look nationally and identify priorities and how they can be delivered in that time horizon”.82

Road and rail planning

55.Strategic rail improvements are planned through the quinquennial Periodic Review. Improving railway links to major ports and airports is one of the Government’s strategic priorities for the rail industry’s current Control Period (CP5, 2014-19).83

56.Rail connections are often a focus of discussions about improved surface access to airports. It is no coincidence that Gatwick Airport, with its direct rail connection, has the highest rail mode share of any UK airport. Network Rail referred to the “vital” importance of good rail connectivity to airports for “supporting economic growth, productivity and social mobility”,84 and points to a “clear” and “growing” demand for rail travel to airports.85 However, the Campaign for Better Transport pointed out that, of the 21 UK airports which saw more than 1 million passengers in 2014, only nine have direct rail connections.86 The Airport Operators’ Association and National Express emphasised that many of the UK’s airports are located on “some of the most congested routes in the country”.87 The DfT’s 2014 study on rail overcrowding showed that four out of ten of the most congested train services in the UK serve an airport, with Glasgow Central to Manchester Airport and London Heathrow to Paddington featuring in the top five.88

57.Rail services tend to be successful when they are versatile and serve multiple markets. Network Rail must therefore balance sometimes competing and sometimes complementary demand, particularly in the complex market around London. There has been a reticence to provide dedicated rail lines to airports (for example a Heathrow spur for HS2), but bespoke airport services on shared lines (such as Gatwick Express and Stansted Express) are very popular and help to siphon off demand from otherwise overcrowded services.

58.The London Borough of Hounslow highlighted the drawbacks of dedicated airport transport infrastructure:

“Left to their own devices, any airport operator is likely always to support a dedicated and prestige service such as Heathrow Express even though this generates limited wider benefits for the UK economy and—given that it actually takes up valuable infrastructure capacity— may actually inhibit improvements to public transport that would help increase local sustainable transport options. This means that it is crucial that surface access is planned with due regards to regional and national connectivity requirements and not just by airport operators in isolation”.89

59.The first Roads Investment Strategy (RIS)—a five-year plan to deliver £15bn of investment in the strategic road network (SRN)—was published in 2014. The RIS includes proposals for a number of schemes to improve the strategic roads to airports including Gatwick and Manchester airports, and any capacity requirements brought about by an expanded airport in the South East. The RIS was informed by Route Based Strategies which were developed by Highways England, with input from local authorities and LEPs. A planned second Road Investment Strategy for the period 2020-25 will be under-pinned by another programme of investment.

60.Ginny Clarke of Highways England explained that the involvement of relevant stakeholders (including airports) in the future planning of routes is a new approach. When the process started two years ago, “it was the first time they had the opportunity to talk to us about the future”.90 Ms Clarke added that Highways England is planning “for a much longer period [and looking] at the sorts of things we should be preparing in the next five years, which we will be delivering in the five years after that”. She stressed the fact that Highways England was now looking at the demands on both the road network and on other transport modes in an attempt to “marry up those forecasts against the generalised forecasts”.91 Ginny Clarke said that airport operators already had longer term plans and that Highways England had to become “more receptive” to fitting into their cycle of planning for the longer term.92 She added that airports are the sorts of organisations that will be invited to planning forums for the next round of Route Strategies in 2016.93 In conclusion, Ginny Clarke felt that Highways England was operating from “a much stronger strategic perspective” due to these conversations.94

61.Road and rail enhancements take time to bring on stream. Sir Howard Davies therefore recommended that both local and central Government give greater priority to airport access in their spending plans.95

Integrated transport planning

62.There are long-standing concerns that the UK’s major transport infrastructure is not planned in a joined up way. Our predecessor Committee made recommendations to the Government on this point several times:

a)In its 2013 Aviation Strategy report the Committee criticised the Government for not going far enough in its strategic planning of road and rail networks to major UK airports, and recommended that Government develop a “coherent strategy” to include assessment of the surface access requirements from the growth of aviation; inclusion of the service requirements of major UK airports in future rail franchise agreements; and a HS2 Heathrow spur if Heathrow were to expand;96

b)The Committee’s April 2014 report on the National Networks NPS concluded that the NPS should specify more types of transport scheme which the Government thinks are needed—including better road and rail connections to ports and airports;97 and

c)Its 2015 report, Investing in the Railway, recommended that rail links to ports and airports for both passengers and freight should be prioritised.98

63.Because of the complexities of the planning process, airports need to plan several years in advance in order to secure their strategies. Grant Brooker of Fosters and Partners commented that “most other countries have successful transport plans. We are in a difficult place because we don’t know where our hub should be […]. If we were serious, we would know where our hub was and […] that would be the start of a transport plan”.99 Mr Brooker added that planning airports and rail links requires “overarching guidance” and a central steer to ensure that all passenger needs are supported.100 Jacobs recommended that the Aviation Policy Framework’s “aspiration” to align its national strategies for aviation and high-speed rail101 “should be strengthened in future government aviation policy”.102

64.Dave Haskins of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority told us that “There are many things that we need to join up around Highways England, Network Rail, local authorities and the airports. Some of those connections are being made, but there is nobody overseeing them to make critical strategic decisions and to decide on the funding that comes with them at the end of the day”.103 Mr Haskins told us that the National Infrastructure Commission would be well placed to provide national coherence. This view was supported by Darren Caplan of the AOA, who pointed to the urgent need for DfT to start a national dialogue now in order to keep pace with the predicted “massive” increase in aviation passenger and freight demand over the next 35 years.104

65.The Minister took a different stance, arguing that there was no place for “Government dictating from above” in a dynamic, predominantly privately owned, aviation sector as “the market will deliver what customers want”.105 The Minister concluded that the UK has delivered “better than in many countries around the world where they have had a master plan at national level and tried to control how the whole situation operates”.106 In September 2015, the Minister reiterated the Government’s approach, as set out in the Aviation Policy Framework:

“The Government has not made a general assessment of the adequacy of road and rail access to regional airports. It is for regional airports to work with their local authorities, local bus and rail companies and Local Economic Partnerships to identify opportunities to promote access to airports. Where the scheme has a wider range of beneficiaries, the Government will consider, along with other relevant stakeholders, the need for additional public funding on a case-by-case basis”.107

66.The fact remains that, under this model, some airports remain completely disconnected from major road and rail infrastructure. Bristol Airport, for example, remains the only top ten UK airport without access to a road of at least dual carriageway standard or a direct rail link. The Airport points to “the absence of a firm commitment in Government policy to improving transport links to regional airports”.108

67.In evidence to our inquiry, Leeds-Bradford Airport suggested that an insufficient surface transport infrastructure had led to a “leakage” of passengers to other airports, which had significant economic and environmental impacts on the Leeds City Region.109 This theory was supported in evidence from Jacobs, which explained that “the passenger surface access catchment of UK airports is generally regional in nature, with relatively few trips made between regions”. Jacobs added that “even at Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport, around three-quarters of all trips made to the airport originate in London or the South East of England”.110 Liverpool John Lennon Airport is attempting to better serve its catchment area through plans for the ‘Halton Curve’. This rail scheme would allow trains to travel from Liverpool and the airport to North West Cheshire, North Wales and beyond. This will help to improve transport links within—and expand—the airport’s catchment to allow existing spare capacity at the airport to be accessed. The project is highlighted as a key project in the Liverpool City Region’s Long Term Rail Strategy.111

68.This reinforces the point made earlier that, everything else being equal, people tend to choose to travel from their ‘local’ airport due to convenience. This has been one of the arguments for linking Manchester and Birmingham airports to London with HS2, in the hope that a fast, convenient single railway journey could drive some demand away from the overcrowded south east and towards airports where there is spare capacity. However, there is a counterargument that it could work the other way—better links to London could drive more people to London airports rather than away from them.

69.There is no direct rail link to Leeds-Bradford Airport: the Minister argued that a heavy rail connection to the airport would not have as wide a regional benefit as it would in places such as Luton, Stansted and Gatwick, so the airport would be expected to pay for its own rail link.112 This has led to the Leeds LDF core strategy and surface access strategy to focus on developing a link road to the airport, in the absence of any rail link.113 As indicated above, this could have a negative impact on modal shift, generating more private vehicle journeys with no alternative means of accessing the airport.

70.This is symptomatic of what Dave Haskins of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority described as the fact of “a greater quantum of funding [being] required to deliver strategic connections and the nationally important infrastructure that comes with them”.114 The question of who should—and can—pay for surface transport improvements has long been one of the major stumbling block for airports wanting to grow. We discuss this in the next chapter of our report.

71.Jacobs concluded that Government policy should recognise “the benefits of a fully integrated approach to national transport planning incorporating access to airports, and the opportunities associated with embedding airports into strategic transport networks (for example by connecting them directly to rail mainlines wherever possible)”. Jacobs stressed that, in many locations, “airport-related use of transport networks represents a small overall proportion of total demand”, particularly during standard commuter peak times.115

72.This Committee and its predecessors have pressed consecutive Governments to improve their integrated transport planning. We are persuaded that more integrated transport planning will deliver benefits, including modal shift, and we are concerned that the failure by successive governments to act on this means that the full benefits of some projects cannot be realised. It remains an issue of concern to us that having committed to spending £55 billion on the HS2 rail project—which we welcome—the Department has provided no evidence of how it plans to best leverage the new capacity generated by the project to deliver improvements to our key international gateways, particularly our airports. We recommend that the Government draw up plans showing how the HS2 network will link to regional airports so that the plans being drawn up by airports, local authorities and Network Rail can take this into account and individual projects can be prioritised accordingly. With reference to the Airports Commission report, we call on the Government to explain how it will address the reduction in domestic connectivity caused by a loss of domestic air slots at Heathrow and how it will develop the subsidised public service operator network set out in the Airport Commission’s report.

73.Traffic to and from airports may be only a small component of the total traffic on the network and these routes may not get the attention from the network operators they need. The Government should require Network Rail and Highways England to demonstrate in their strategic business plans how they have considered airport surface access strategies, making clear which plans for improvements to surface access will be progressed and how they have consulted airport operators, LEPs and local authorities, on the relative priority that should be given to such schemes.

74.The Department should set out more clearly its policy on, and expectations for, modal shift. We recommend that the Department develop a strategic plan for modal shift across the whole road network, with feeder routes to airports being a key part of that. This policy should underpin the development of national transport networks, as well as airport Master Plans and Airport Surface Access Strategies. We welcome the creation of the National Infrastructure Commission and recommend that it work with local organisations to optimise connectivity between regional transport hubs across the country. This will provide much needed national coherence on transport planning matters.

74 Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, March 2013

75 Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, March 2013, paras 1.92-1.108

76 Department for Transport, National Policy Statement for National Airports, December 2014

77Government confirms support for airport expansion in the south-east”, Department for Transport press release, 10 December 2015

78 Q239 [Robert Goodwill]

79 Campaign for Better Transport (STA0063)

80 National Infrastructure Commission, National Infrastructure Commission: terms of reference, October 2015

81 National Infrastructure Commission, National Infrastructure Commission: terms of reference, October 2015

82 Q13 [Darren Caplan]

84 Network Rail (STA0070), para 1.1

85 Network Rail (STA0070), para 2.2

86 Campaign for Better Transport (STA0063); however this excludes consideration of some centrally located airports such as London City which has a direct light rail connection into the centre of London and to the canary Wharf business district

87 Airport Operators Association (STA0079), para 3; STA0039, para 1.5; e.g. Birmingham on the WCML and Gatwick on the BML

89 London Borough of Hounslow (STA0049), para 2.6

90 Q50 [Ginny Clarke]

91 Q73 [Ginny Clarke]

92 Q81 [Ginny Clarke]

93 Q82 [Ginny Clarke]

94 Q80 [Ginny Clarke]

96 Transport Committee, First Report of Session 2013-14, Aviation Strategy, HC 78-I, para 86

97 Transport Committee, Sixteenth Report of Session 2013-14, National Policy Statements on National Networks, HC 1135, para 14

98 Transport Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2014-15, Investing in the Railway, HC 257, para 86

99 Q38 [Grant Brooker]

100 Q43 [Grant Brooker]

101 Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework, Cm 8584, March 2013, para 1.100

102 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.2.5

103 Q15 [Dave Haskins]

104 Qq16-17

105 Q181 [Robert Goodwill]

106 Q181 [Robert Goodwill]

107 PQ6770 [on Regional airports], 21 July 2015

108 Bristol Airport (STA0004)

109 WYG (STA0015), paras 3.4-3.5

110 Jacobs (STA0083), 3.1.2

111 Liverpool John Lennon Airport (STA0047)

112 Q178 [Robert Goodwill]

113 West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) (STA0050), paras 2.5-2.9

114 Q16 [Dave Haskins]

115 Jacobs (STA0083), para 4.1.1

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 24 February 2016