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Chapter 11 - The South East

Key issues

11.1 In 2003 there were some 120 million journeys through South East airports out of a national total of around 200 million. More than half of the total UK demand that is forecast for 2030 is for airports in the South East of England. Demand is high principally because of the nature and strength of the economy within the South East, and in London in particular.

Picture of checking in at Heathrow

11.2 The pressures on existing capacity in the South East of England are already more severe than those in the rest of the country. At Heathrow, for many years now the demand for runway capacity has exceeded the available supply for virtually all hours of the day - and there are very stringent controls on the number of flights permitted at night. At Gatwick, demand exceeds supply for much of the day, especially in summer. At Stansted, there is no spare capacity in some peak hours, and demand is continuing to grow extremely rapidly. Only at Luton, and, to a lesser extent, at London City is there significant capacity available in peak hours.

11.3 At the same time, the South East is the most densely populated part of the United Kingdom. As a result, the pressures from competing land uses are greater, and the likelihood of airport growth impacting on people, and on protected land such as green belts, will often be greater. Airports are themselves a significant driver of economic growth, and their expansion needs to fit with the Government's wider policies for sustainable growth as reflected in the Communities Plan. 1

11.4 The issue of airport capacity in the South East is significant for the whole of the country. 80 per cent of air travellers using the main London airports are travelling to or from somewhere in the South East. But it was made very clear in responses to the consultation 2 that business and leisure travellers from all parts of the UK benefit from the range and frequency of international services from those airports.

11.5 In the consultation exercise, we put forward options for one or more new runways at each of Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick as well as an option for a new airport at Cliffe. We also consulted on two options for development of Luton Airport. During the consultation promoters of alternative airport projects submitted proposals, including new offshore and coastal airports. We also sought views on the role of smaller South East airports. We have taken account of all the views expressed in reaching our conclusions on the provision of additional airport capacity in the South East, which are set out below.

Main conclusions

11.6 Our first priority is to make the best possible use of the existing runways at the major South East airports.

11.7 Making best use of existing runways in the South East will provide some much-needed additional capacity. But on its own it would fall a long way short of providing a lasting solution. Facilitating the growth of airports in other regions will also reduce the pressure on the major South East airports, but this will not substantially reduce the long-term pressure on London airports.

11.8 Having considered all the information before us, we believe, on balance, that two new runways will be needed in the South East over the next three decades. It is clear that a first new runway is needed as soon as possible, although it would take up to a decade to put in place. Beyond that there are large uncertainties, which increase the further ahead we look, for the reasons set out in Chapter 2. But we believe that work has to start now on planning for a second new runway to be built probably around 2015-2020.

11.9 Each of the potential locations for additional runways identified in our consultation has significant environmental, practical and other constraints. We also recognise that, wherever we identify a need for another runway, this will cause concern, even if it might be fifteen to twenty years or more before such a runway is built.

11.10 Taking all these factors into account, including the longer-term uncertainties, we propose to take a balanced and measured approach, based on the principles set out in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. We therefore intend to identify now where we believe the first new runway should be located, and to start to plan for a second new runway, including safeguarding the necessary land.

11.11 In summary, our principal conclusions about new runway capacity in the South East are:

  • we support making best use of the existing runway at Stansted and development to its full use of a single runway at Luton;
  • we support the provision of two new runways in the South East in the thirty year period to 2030;
  • we do not believe that there is a strong case for attempting to create a second hub airport in the South East;
  • we support development as soon as possible (we expect around 2011/2012) of a wide-spaced second runway at Stansted, with strict environmental controls, as the first new runway to be built in the South East;
  • we support development of Heathrow provided that stringent environmental limits can be met, including a new runway as soon as possible after the new runway at Stansted (our assessment is that there is a substantially better chance that the limits could be met in the 2015-2020 period);
  • we propose an urgent programme of work and consultation to find solutions to the key environmental issues at Heathrow and to consider how we can make best use of the existing airport;
  • we have concluded that we should not take action to overturn the 1979 planning agreement that prevented construction of a second runway at Gatwick before 2019;
  • we believe that there is a strong case on its merits for a wide-spaced second runway at Gatwick after 2019 and that land should be safeguarded for such a runway, in case it becomes clear in due course that the conditions that we wish to attach to our support for the construction of a third Heathrow runway cannot be met;
  • the policies set out above provide for the two new runways which are needed; we do not, therefore, support development of two or three additional runways at Stansted, or development of two new runways at Gatwick;
  • we do not support the option of a new airport at Cliffe, or any of the proposals for alternative locations put forward during the consultation;
  • we support, in principle, development of smaller airports in the South East to meet local demand subject to relevant environmental considerations; and
  • we do not support development of Alconbury for passenger or freight services, but we recognise the potential for relocation there of aircraft maintenance operations from Cambridge Airport.

A South East hub airport

11.12 We sought views from consultees about the value to the UK of having one or more major hub airports in the South East. This is an important prior consideration for any decision about the long-term provision of airport capacity.

11.13 Large airports are able to support a wider range of destinations and greater frequency of services than could be supported by local demand alone. Major airports attract passengers connecting from one flight to another and, because of this concentration, airlines can operate routes and frequencies that would not otherwise be viable. This is well illustrated at Heathrow, which has the highest number of international transfer passengers of any airport in the world.

11.14 At the same time, our assessment suggests that the greatest economic benefits are obtained by providing capacity in locations which are convenient for as much as possible of the total demand. That is better achieved by a more dispersed pattern of capacity than by concentrating all additional capacity at one location.

11.15 There is evidence to suggest that a combination of liberalised air markets, changing aircraft design and growing demand will increasingly mean that airlines will want, and be able, to fly point-to-point to a greater number of destinations. Demand in the South East will be strong enough to support more point-to-point services without the reliance on connecting traffic. However, some long-haul services will continue to be reliant on feed from connecting passengers. This suggests that long-haul airlines will continue to be attracted to major airports.

11.16 A South East hub can deliver substantial benefits to the whole of the UK, and most believe that Heathrow is the only candidate for that role. There is very little support for the concept of a second or alternative hub, which most felt was impractical and would carry high risks. Indeed, many airlines believe that an alternative South East hub would work only if Heathrow were to close.

11.17 We recognise the immense value to the UK of Heathrow's status as an international hub airport and we want to see that continue. However, we do not believe that there is a strong case for attempting to create a second hub airport in the South East, whether or not additional capacity is created at Heathrow.


11.18 Early in the process leading up to this White Paper, the Government was urged by a range of interested parties to consider an option for a new airport as an alternative to incremental development of existing airports. Many believed that a new, purpose-built airport could provide the best long-term solution to the need for more airport capacity in the South East.

11.19 A detailed site search considered some 400 possible locations in the South East and other parts of the country, including some offshore. The site near Cliffe, on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, emerged from this selection process as the leading candidate. In particular it offered enough land for large-scale development, the potential for good transport connections to key markets in and around London, support for regional planning objectives in the Thames Gateway, and the potential for 24-hour operation (of particular value to freight operators), with relatively low numbers of people affected by noise.

11.20 The Government recognised in the consultation document that the potential benefits of developing a major new airport at Cliffe would need to be considered in the context of its significant impacts on important wildlife habitats. Moreover, the internationally important status of some of the habitats under European law mean that any potentially adverse effect would require the Government to demonstrate that it has considered all reasonable alternatives. In the light of the consultation, the Government is satisfied that there would be reasonable alternatives to Cliffe.

11.21 The Government has also taken careful note of the conclusions of the report by the Central Science Laboratory and British Trust for Ornithology, who were commissioned to address in more detail concerns that had been raised in the consultation paper about the potential safety risk from bird-strikes at this location and about the feasibility of effective mitigation.

11.22 Our analysis shows that in the right conditions, an airport at Cliffe could attract a substantial number of passengers and generate large economic benefits. However, it also showed that, because of high capital costs, the net benefits of Cliffe were lower than for any of the combinations of additional capacity at existing airports involving more than one new runway, including the four-runway option at Stansted. 3 The high up-front construction costs also presented a risk that the financial viability of the project would be threatened if demand proved to be less strong than forecast, or if airlines and passengers simply did not use the airport.

11.23 Taking all factors into consideration, the Government does not support the option of a new airport at Cliffe.

Stansted Airport

11.24 Stansted has grown very rapidly in recent years, particularly in the leisure market. In 2003 it is expected to handle nearly 19 million passengers compared with just under seven million passengers in 1998. The airport has planning approval to cater for up to 25mppa, subject to an annual aircraft movement limit of 241,000. The airport is also currently subject to a passenger aircraft movement limit of 185,000 approved by Parliament in 1999 under section 32 of the Airports Act 1986. We believe that it is preferable for controls of this kind to be agreed locally and that there is no longer a good case for use of the statutory limit in respect of Stansted. We intend to ask Parliament to remove it. At current rates of growth, Stansted's runway capacity could be fully used within a few years. However, more terminal capacity would allow passenger numbers to continue to grow without additional runway capacity, up to about 35mppa.

11.25 Development to provide that increase in terminal capacity would be limited to the current airport site. Daytime noise impacts would not be greatly worse as a result of an increase to 35mppa: forecasts suggest that the area within the 57dBA noise contour in 2015 with maximum use of the runway would be about 43 - the same as the contour limit set as a condition of the recent planning permission for development to 25mppa. However, the airport operator and the Strategic Rail Authority would need to consider the adequacy of existing and planned rail capacity to accommodate this level of growth.

Picture of Stanstead airport

11.26 Because we expect there to be an increasingly severe shortage of runway capacity at the major South East airports over the remainder of this decade, making full use of the available capacity at Stansted will be essential to avoid stifling growth. Making full use of Stansted would generate large net economic benefits. We therefore support growth at Stansted to make full use of the existing runway and expect the airport operator to seek planning permission in good time to cater for demand as it arises.

11.27 Turning to the option for a second runway at Stansted, this would provide a very substantial amount of additional capacity for London and the South East - up to 46mppa. We expect that there will be strong demand for this capacity, especially as there will be little runway capacity available at other major South East airports by the time that the new runway could open (around 2011/2012). Traffic would therefore grow rapidly, and the new runway would generate substantial net benefits to the national economy. 4 The space available for expansion means that the development of the airport could be phased in an efficient way such that terminals and stands could be added as and when needed.

11.28 The Government believes the realisation of its regional and sub-regional growth objectives would be strongly complemented by expansion of Stansted. Regardless of decisions on airport capacity at Stansted, the sub-region is set to grow strongly, reflecting employment-led growth in the service and high-technology economies of London, east Hertfordshire, west Essex and Cambridge. This is reflected in designation of the London-Stansted-Cambridge area as a Growth Area in the Communities Plan. Harlow, the Lower Lea Valley and East London are all identified as Priority Areas for Economic Regeneration in Regional Planning Guidance.

11.29 Stansted enjoys good transport connections by road and rail. The package of road schemes announced by the Government in July 2003 included several improvements that will support the airport's development, including the widening of the M25 and M11, and upgrading of the A120.

11.30 A key advantage of a new runway at Stansted would be that substantial additional capacity would be achieved with a lower noise impact - the number of people within the 57dBA noise contour would be less - than for other comparable options.

11.31 Nevertheless, Stansted will be a growing airport, and so the area within the 57dBA noise contour will increase. Estimates suggest the numbers affected would rise to around 8,000 by 2015 and 14,000 by 2030 (assuming no further improvements in aircraft noise performance after 2015) or maybe a little less in both cases. We believe that development of Stansted should therefore be subject to stringent limits on the area affected by aircraft noise, with the objective of incentivising airlines to introduce the quietest suitable aircraft as quickly as is reasonably practicable. The limits should look at least ten years ahead, and will need to be reviewed at intervals between now and 2030 to take account of emerging developments in aircraft noise performance.

11.32 We note suggestions by the airport operator in responding to the consultation, that runway operational controls might reduce impacts on the village of Takeley. We urge the operator to explore such possibilities thoroughly as they develop the design of the new runway, and seek to identify good environmental solutions for all communities affected by noise, including ground noise.

11.33 Chapter 3 sets out the mitigation arrangements that we wish to see introduced to address those noise impacts that will occur even with application of controls such as the affected area limits described above.

11.34 We do not expect that an additional runway would result in exceedences of EU limits on NO2. The consultation document suggested that in 2015, with the addition of one new runway, about 20 people might be affected by levels of NO2 above EU limits. Subsequent work on modelling of NO2 concentrations 5 suggests that, on the basis of a realistic range of mitigation measures to address airport-related emissions, it should be possible to manage local air quality impacts such that no exceedences of the EU limits for NO2 occur. The NOx concentration limit for the protection of vegetation is not considered to be applicable around a developed Stansted. In bringing forward its proposals, the airport operator must incorporate mitigation measures necessary to ensure that concentrations of all relevant pollutants are kept within legal limits.

11.35 Some respondents to the consultation were concerned that development of Stansted could lead to urbanisation of the wider area that would fundamentally alter its largely rural character, and could give rise to serious environmental pressures. The Government continues to recognise these concerns. 6 The area around Stansted has an attractive, varied landscape, with many villages and smaller settlements, including much valuable architectural heritage. We believe that these characteristics should be preserved as much as possible, but at the same time it is important to consider the potential growth of the airport and its associated development within the wider planning context.

Picture of Stanstead airport

11.36 The Government's objective is to ensure that in this wider context the London - Stansted - Cambridge Growth Area makes a strong contribution to the Communities Plan objective of substantial additional growth to relieve pressures both local and in the wider South East but to do this sustainably. This means growth which maximises the potential for high quality urban development, respects qualities of place and character and maintains good public and private services. Also important to this wider growth objective will be the need to encourage growth in the north of the South East region and build stronger links between the Midlands and the South East.

11.37 Provision for surface transport infrastructure to support a new runway at Stansted will need to be developed in conjunction with emerging proposals for the Growth Area to serve not only links to London but also to the North and the East Midlands in particular. Growth at and around Stansted from airport and wider regional development will place pressure on strategic and local surface transport infrastructure. The package of road schemes announced by the Government in July 2003 included several improvements that will support the airport's development, including the widening of the M25 and M11, and upgrading of the A120. Work to date suggests that the following are likely to require further consideration in the context of a new runway:

  • increased capacity on the West Anglia Main Line, including platform lengthening and additional tracks on key sections;
  • peak capacity at Liverpool Street and Tottenham Hale;
  • increased capacity on the M11 between the M25 and the airport; and
  • enhanced local access (both road and public transport) to serve the needs of airport employees and the wider community in the Stansted area.

11.38 All these surface access requirements will need thorough environmental assessment.

11.39 The option for a new runway at Stansted would require substantial land take and the loss of around 100 properties. The loss of two Scheduled Ancient Monuments and 29 Grade II listed buildings was a cause of particular concern in the consultation. The precise land boundary of a proposed development of Stansted will be a matter for the airport operator in the first instance in developing a detailed design for planning approval. However, the Government would wish the operator to consider positively how any listed buildings that would be affected might be relocated.

11.40 On balance, taking into account all relevant factors, and in the light of the responses to consultation, the Government now supports the development of a second runway at Stansted as the first new runway to be built in the South East. We expect it could be completed by around 2011 or 2012. The new runway would be the wide-spaced runway option presented in the consultation document, as shown on the map below.

11.41 The airport operator will need to put in place a scheme to address the problem of generalised blight resulting from the runway proposal (see paragraphs 12.13 to 12.17).

It must be stressed that this map is only indicative, pending detailed design work and the submission of a planning application by the operator. The map should not therefore be taken to be a formal safeguarding map.

Map of Stansted with one new runway

Taking Forward Development at Stansted

The East of England Regional Assembly is currently finalising its draft Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) which will set out the development strategy for the region to 2021. It is doing so on the assumption that Stansted will expand to the capacity of the existing runway. Planning for a second runway at Stansted will require more detailed consideration of airport development and transport issues, beyond what will be possible in RPG 14. This may require a limited review of the RPG. The Government supports the view that development of a second runway should be done in a way that respects the character of the countryside around Stansted.

The Government will not promote or pay for the development of Stansted. New airport capacity should be paid for by airport users. We look to the airport operator to take it forward in a way that is responsive to users, and to provide necessary funding. It is a responsibility of the regulator, the CAA, amongst its statutory duties, to encourage timely investment. The Government expects both parties, regulator and airport operator, to secure an appropriate framework to bring the development to fruition. It expects this process to be guided by the decisions in this White Paper, as well as by the regulator's duties towards users of airports, towards the operation of airports, and towards investment in new facilities at airports.

The Government will work with the airport operator, the SRA, and a range of regional and local partners in taking forward work urgently to identify robust and affordable surface transport solutions that would support growth of the airport and across the region. The airport operator will be expected to contribute to the costs of rail and road improvements to the extent that these are required to cater for airport-related traffic. Their contribution is likely to be substantial, in particular for provision of increased rail capacity

11.42 The consultation also considered an option for two new runways at Stansted. The proposal for a third (close parallel) runway at Stansted would increase the airport's ultimate capacity to just over 100mppa.

11.43 Adding two new runways at Stansted runway found little support. The economic benefits reported in the consultation document were the lowest of all combinations of two new runways. Our analysis shows that greater economic benefits are generated by a more dispersed pattern of new capacity rather than by concentrating all additional capacity at one location.

11.44 Some 10,000 more people would live within the 57dBA noise contour in 2030 with the addition of a third runway, and around 20 more Grade II listed buildings would be lost. This option would also place further pressure on road and rail networks which would be likely to require substantial further investment, particularly for rail.

11.45 On balance, taking all factors into consideration, we believe that the case for a third runway at Stansted compares unfavourably with the case for an additional new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick. The Government does not therefore support this option.

11.46 An option was also put forward for three new runways at Stansted. Around 4,000 more people would live within the 57dBA noise contour and fourteen more Grade II listed buildings would be lost. The Strategic Rail Authority cannot at this stage identify a robust scheme to meet the rail access needs of an airport of that size. The net economic benefits of this option are only marginally greater than a combination of one new runway at each of Stansted and Heathrow. The Government does not therefore support this option.

Heathrow Airport

11.47 The South East consultation document recognised the central role that Heathrow has played in the UK's aviation industry for several decades. For many people around the world, Heathrow is 'London airport', a long-established and widely recognised global brand. But it is much more than just an airport for London. Travellers from all over the UK rely on access to Heathrow's global route network. It is the prime business airport for London and the South East, and this will almost certainly continue to be the case; indeed, it is probable that services at Heathrow will increasingly be focused on routes (both international and domestic) which are important for business travellers. And Heathrow's excellent connections to the rest of the world have been a significant factor in attracting foreign investment.

Picture of Heathrow airport

11.48 The demand for Heathrow is extremely strong, and always likely to be far in excess of its capacity. London has perhaps the strongest local catchment area for international air travel in the world. The demand is particularly high in businesses in the finance and business services sector, which are reliant on global markets and good international communication. A significant part of forecast economic growth in London is in those industries. Heathrow Airport is also a prime driver of the economy of West London and the Thames Valley.

11.49 Heathrow's unique role within the UK as a major hub airport is discussed in paragraphs 11.12-11.17 above. It competes in this role primarily with the major continental airports of Northern Europe, such as those at Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris. And in doing so it helps London and the South East compete for business investment and economic growth with those cities and their surrounding regions. This in turn produces economic benefits - direct and indirect - for the rest of the UK. The airport directly or indirectly supports nearly 100,000 jobs.

Picture of Heathrow Airport

11.50 Additional capacity at Heathrow would generate the largest direct net economic benefits of any new runway option. 7 And although not easy to quantify with certainty, there is little dispute that the range and frequency of Heathrow services bring wider benefits to the national economy. It appears to be generally accepted that without additional capacity, Heathrow's route network will tend to shrink over time, most likely to the advantage of other continental hub airports.

11.51 The Government believes there is a strong case for seeking to secure the large economic benefits achievable through the addition of a third runway at Heathrow. At the same time, however, we recognise that these strong economic arguments must be weighed against the serious environmental disadvantages of Heathrow.

Picture of Heathrow Airport

11.52 Daytime noise impacts at Heathrow are many times worse than at any other airport in the UK, despite significant improvements in the noise climate over many years. The Government's policy - reaffirmed in the consultation document - is to take all practicable steps to prevent any deterioration in the noise climate at Heathrow, and to continue to do everything practicable to improve it over time.

11.53 We believe that development of Heathrow should be subject to a stringent limit on the area significantly affected by aircraft noise, with the objective of incentivising airlines to introduce the quietest suitable aircraft as quickly as is reasonably practicable. The limit will need to be reviewed at intervals to take account of emerging developments in aircraft noise performance. Specifically for Heathrow, we propose that any further development could only be considered on the basis that it resulted in no net increase in the total area of the 57dBA noise contour compared with summer 2002, a contour area of 127

11.54 The most difficult issue confronting expansion of Heathrow concerns compliance with the mandatory air quality limit values for NO2 that will apply from 2010 (as set down in EU Directive 1999/30/EC), and in particular the annual mean limit of 40 µg/m3. The consultation document (para 16.30) said:

'...another runway at Heathrow could not be considered unless the Government could be confident that levels of all relevant pollutants could be consistently contained within EU limits.'

Heathrow Terminal 5 (under construction)

Heathrow Terminal 5 (under construction)

11.55 In the light of responses to the consultation, including some detailed work commissioned by the airport operator, substantial further analysis and sensitivity testing was done for the Department for Transport to review the appraisal methodology used in the original study, and to explore in greater detail what scale of response would be needed to reduce emissions from aviation as well as from other sources, principally road traffic, which are responsible for a substantial proportion of the emissions. 8

11.56 A range of possible measures to tackle emissions from aviation sources was examined. These included improvements from airport operations (for example a cleaner airside vehicle fleet, greater use of fixed electrical ground power and more efficient taxiing of aircraft) and economic incentives in relation to aircraft emissions that would put pressure on airlines and manufacturers to deliver technology improvements quickly. The study also assumed that traffic management measures including airport road charging would be introduced to reduce emissions from airport-related road journeys, as well as to tackle congestion on the surrounding motorway network. It also assumed a slow build-up of the use of the new runway in order to reduce total emissions in the early years of the additional capacity.

11.57 The Government recognises that there is some uncertainty in the techniques available for estimating future concentrations of pollutants. Even with full implementation of this package of tough measures, and making aggressive assumptions about future developments in aircraft and motor vehicle technology, the evidence of our further work suggests that substantial areas around Heathrow, containing the homes of many hundreds or thousands of people, would be subject to exceedences of the mandatory air quality limit value. Such exceedences would not be acceptable, and would be against the law. However, our overall assessment is that, within the 2015-2020 timescale, there would be a substantially better prospect of avoiding exceedences, in particular because it would allow more time to develop improved technologies, for both aircraft and road vehicles, to tighten standards, and to achieve widespread use of the improved technologies in road and aircraft fleets.

11.58 Further expansion of Heathrow will place pressure on already congested road and rail networks. The Government has no plans for further motorway widening in this area beyond that which we announced in July 2003. The solution will need to be based on improvements to public transport, which is likely to require the airport operator spending several hundred million pounds on new rail infrastructure. The prospects for the introduction of some form of road user charging, either by means of charges to enter the airport or pricing across a wider area, should also be considered. The Government has already established a feasibility study to advise on practical options for a new system of road charging in the UK, which is expected to report in Summer 2004.

11.59 We have noted concerns expressed by the South East England Regional Assembly and the Mayor of London about the additional pressure that development of a third runway could put on labour markets and the increase in housing requirement. We believe that these effects would probably be less severe if additional capacity were introduced later and more gradually than was assumed in the consultation document.

11.60 Heathrow is in the Green Belt and that will have implications for its further development (see Green Belt in Chapter 12).

11.61 The Government recognises the economic strength of Heathrow and the direct and wider benefits to the national economy that will be lost if additional capacity cannot be provided there for many years, or at all. At the same time, on the basis of the evidence available, we cannot be confident that air quality limits at Heathrow with the addition of a third runway will be met, even with aggressive mitigation measures.

11.62 The Government supports a third runway, which would bring substantial benefits for this country, at Heathrow, once we can be confident that the key condition relating to compliance with air quality limits can be met. We judge that there is a substantially better prospect of achieving this with a third runway and terminal capacity built in the 2015-2020 period, as long as we take action without delay to tackle the NO2 problem. The Government's support would also be conditional on measures to prevent deterioration of the noise climate and improve public transport access as set out above.

11.63 We will therefore institute immediately, with the airport operator and relevant bodies and agencies, a programme of action to consider how these conditions can be met in such a way as to make the most of Heathrow's two existing runways and to enable the addition of a third runway as soon as practicable after a new runway at Stansted.

11.64 Compliance with air quality limits for NO2 will require a concerted effort by the airport operator and the aviation industry to identify ways of reducing emissions from aircraft, from other airport activity, and from airport-related road traffic. They will need to take account of the scope to increase the use of public transport and manage the demand for road access. The Government will examine the contribution from vehicular traffic on the surrounding road network.

11.65 The airport operator argued in its consultation response that the full potential of a third runway could not be realised without a sixth terminal to the north of the A4. They suggested four possible options for new facilities. In all cases more land would be needed than allowed for in the consultation option, which assumed that terminal capacity would be provided within the airport boundary. In principle, we recognise the force of these arguments and suggest that the operator should carry out further work on proposals for terminal capacity and an appraisal of the impacts, on the basis of which a further consultation would be required.

11.66 Our current assessment is that a new runway at Heathrow could not come into operation before some time in the period 2015-2020. It is important, therefore, to consider the scope for greater utilisation of the two existing runways. For example, mixed mode operation in peak hours might be introduced, while retaining runway alternation for the rest of the time. The impacts and benefits of any such proposal would have to be studied in detail, and there would need to be a full public consultation. We expect the airport operator, working with the Civil Aviation Authority, National Air Traffic Services and the Government, to develop proposals to form the basis of such a consultation. The proposals will need to take account of air quality and noise implications, including review of existing procedures such as westerly preference and the 'Cranford Agreement', as previously indicated in the decision on the Heathrow Fifth Terminal.

11.67 We look to the airport operator to take steps to safeguard the land needed for the option for a third runway at Heathrow. We welcome the amendments suggested by the operator 9 to the layout for a third runway that would reduce impacts on Harmondsworth. The map below reproduces that shown in the consultation document, but has been revised to take account of those proposals by the airport operator.

11.68 The airport operator will need to put in place a scheme to address the problem of generated blight resulting from the runway proposal (see paragraphs 12.13 to 12.17).

It must be stressed that this map is only indicative, pending detailed design work and the submission of a planning application by the operator. The map should not therefore be taken to be a formal safeguarding map.

Map of Heathrow with new runway

Gatwick Airport

11.69 There are three principal issues to consider in respect of Gatwick: first, whether the Government should seek to overturn the 1979 agreement between West Sussex County Council and the British Airports Authority (now BAA plc) which prevented construction of a second runway at Gatwick airport before 2019; second, whether (in either case) to support or retain options for one or more runways to be built at Gatwick; and third, if so, which option to provide for.

11.70 On the first issue, the Government's position on the 1979 agreement remains that it is highly undesirable as a matter of policy and principle to seek to overturn that agreement because (1) people should be able to continue to rely on agreements of this kind; (2) to overturn it would seriously undermine efforts to create greater certainty, thus creating unnecessary blight and anxiety and (3) it remains the case that West Sussex County Council and others are opposed to the overturning of it. All of these reasons are elaborated in the judgement in November 2002 in the case brought by Medway and others. We considered that it would be appropriate to seek to overturn the agreement only if there was demonstrably no alternative way forward.

Arriving at Gatwick airport by train

11.71 The Government has considered this issue, taking account of all the factors relevant to Gatwick and the agreement, and in the light of responses to the consultation. We believe that there clearly is an alternative way forward. We have concluded that the case for a runway at Gatwick is not as strong as for the options at Stansted and (subject to meeting the critical conditions) Heathrow. We have therefore concluded that we should not take action to overturn the 1979 agreement.

11.72 Taking the second and third issues together, the second edition of the consultation document set out two options for a new runway at Gatwick: a close parallel or a wide-spaced runway. The close parallel runway would provide additional capacity of about 20mppa, the wide-spaced option about 40mppa (taking the airport to a total of about 62mppa and 83mppa respectively).

11.73 Forecasts show that additional capacity at Gatwick would be very attractive to travellers. The option for a wide-spaced runway at Gatwick would generate around double the economic benefits of the close parallel option. 10

11.74 The close parallel option would increase the number of people within the 57dBA noise contour in 2030 by around 3,000, and the wide space option by around 15,000. We therefore believe that any development of a second runway at Gatwick would need to be subject to stringent limits on the area affected by aircraft noise, with the objective of incentivising airlines to introduce the quietest suitable aircraft as quickly as is reasonably practicable. The limits should look at least ten years ahead, and would need to be reviewed at intervals to take account of emerging developments in aircraft noise performance.

Picture of Gatwick airport

11.75 The Government's further analysis of local air quality, described in the section on Heathrow airport, considered the impacts in 2030 of the two options for one new runway at Gatwick if they were to come into operation in the early 2020s. Our analysis shows that, on the basis of a realistic range of mitigation measures similar to those that might be applied at Heathrow, around 50 people might be exposed to concentrations of NO2 that would exceed EU limits with the close parallel option, and around 230 people with the wide-spaced option. We believe that appropriate action by the airport operator and the aviation industry could ensure that concentrations of all relevant pollutants could be kept within legal limits.

11.76 Seven Grade II or Grade II* listed buildings would be lost with a close parallel runway, and seventeen with the wide-spaced Gatwick option. 50 residential properties would be lost as a result of the close parallel option, compared to more than 300 with the wide-spaced option (although the airport operator has suggested that there might be no need to take land in Povey Cross and Hookwood, which might in fact mean that less than 200 properties would be lost).

11.77 Gatwick is in Green Belt and that will have implications for its further development (see Green Belt in Chapter 12).

11.78 The airport operator expressed the view in their response that the close parallel option put forward in the consultation might not be capable of delivering the additional capacity that had been assumed. The Civil Aviation Authority expressed similar views. We are not able to reach a concluded view on the merits of any of the alternative options put forward by the airport operator, but we recognise that further work on this issue would be needed before a viable proposal for a new close parallel runway could be delivered.

11.79 On balance, we believe that there is a stronger case for the wide-spaced runway option (after 2019) at Gatwick.

11.80 As explained above, we cannot be certain at this stage when, or whether, the conditions attached to development of a third runway at Heathrow might be met, particularly in relation to air quality. We are also mindful of the uncertainties surrounding longer-term demand forecasts described in Chapter 2. The Government believes that it is sensible for the time being to retain and provide for a suitable alternative option, should this prove necessary. Taking all relevant factors into account, including the strong economic case for additional capacity at Gatwick, we therefore propose to keep open the option for a wide-spaced runway at Gatwick after 2019.

11.81 We look to the airport operator to take steps to safeguard the land needed for the wide-spaced option at Gatwick. The map below reproduces that shown in the consultation document, except that the indicative airport boundary to the north of the airport has been redrawn to avoid Hookwood and Povey Cross, in line with the suggestion by the airport operator.

11.82 The airport operator will need to put in place a scheme to address the problem of generalised blight resulting from the runway proposal (see paragraphs 12.13 to 12.17).

11.83 A further option, for two new runways at Gatwick, was also considered. The option would generate higher economic benefits than all other two runway options, other than the combination of Heathrow and Stansted. However, the Strategic Rail Authority and the Highways Agency have identified difficult road and rail access problems for this option. Over 400 properties would be lost. A further 8,000 people would live within the 57dBA noise contour with the addition of a second new runway - around 30,000 in total by 2030. There would need to be very extensive and intrusive earthworks to accommodate the northern runway. There was very little support for this option, and the Government too does not support it.

It must be stressed that this map is only indicative, pending detailed design work and the submission of a planning application by the operator. The map should not therefore be taken to be a formal safeguarding map.

Map of Gatwick with new runway

London Luton Airport

11.84 Luton currently handles about seven million passengers per annum, and is growing steadily towards its current planning limit of 10mppa. Forecasts suggest that there would be sufficient demand to justify expansion of Luton to the full potential of a single runway - say about 30mppa and 240,000 ATMs - in the period up to 2030, even with two new runways at other South East airports.

11.85 Luton/Dunstable is identified in Regional Planning Guidance as a Priority Area for Economic Regeneration and, along with Bedford, is designated as a Growth Area in the Communities Plan. The continued expansion of Luton Airport has the potential to play a key role in delivering employment-led growth in this area.

11.86 The M1 is the principal access road for traffic to and from Luton airport. Improvements to the M1 and M25 and provision of bypasses for Dunstable and Luton were announced in July 2003. Growth of the airport could contribute to pressures on the road network beyond 2015, depending on the rate of build up. The Strategic Rail Authority's view is that, with improvements to links from the airport to Luton Airport Parkway station, for example through a new tracked transit system, the rail capacity enhancement projects underway or planned for Thameslink and Midland Main Line should be sufficient to support expansion to maximum use of one runway.

Aircraft at Luton airport

11.87 The consultation document included two options for a replacement runway at Luton. One of these involved moving the runway to a NNE-SSW alignment and extending it. The other option that was put forward was for a replacement full-length runway to the south of the existing runway and on the same alignment, with the latter to be used as a taxiway. There would be no advantage in a realigned runway in terms of economic benefits, and the environmental impacts would be similar to a runway on the existing orientation except that the total number of people within the 57dBA noise contour in 2030 is estimated to be lower (14,000 rather than 19,000). There appears to be no disagreement with the conclusions of the Civil Aviation Authority and National Air Traffic Services that the realignment of the Luton runway would require major changes in airspace for very little overall gain in capacity. On balance there does not appear to be a compelling argument for this option and we do not support it.

11.88 There is a stronger case for the southern replacement runway option. The airport operator does not favour that option and proposes instead to lengthen the existing runway and taxiway. The second edition of the South East consultation document acknowledged the possibility of such an alternative.

11.89 The Government supports the growth of Luton up to the maximum use of a single full-length runway based broadly on the current alignment, on condition that the overall environmental impacts of such development will be carefully controlled and adequate mitigation provided. We believe that growth should be subject to stringent limits on the area affected by aircraft noise, with the objective of incentivising airlines to introduce the quietest suitable aircraft as quickly as is reasonably practicable. The limits should look at least ten years ahead, and will need to be reviewed at intervals between now and 2030 to take account of emerging developments in aircraft noise performance. We note that the airport operator's proposed single-runway solution may be a more cost-effective approach than the consultation option, and that less land outside the current boundary might be required.

11.90 The two maps below reproduce that shown in the consultation document for the option of a replacement runway to the south of the existing runway as well as the airport operator's alternative proposal.

11.91 The airport operator will need to put in place a scheme to address the problem of generalised blight resulting from the runway proposal (see paragraphs 12.13 to 12.17).

11.92 The airport operator also included in its consultation response a proposal for a second, close parallel runway at Luton that would provide a total capacity of about 62mppa. Our analysis suggests that the proposed second runway at Luton would attract fewer passengers and generate lower economic benefits than the equivalent-size (close parallel) option at Gatwick. We also believe that a second runway at Luton would be unlikely to come to fruition for many years, given the remaining spare capacity on the existing runway. It is uncertain at this stage how much additional transport infrastructure might be needed to support a second runway at Luton, but our judgement is that it could be extensive. We accept the airport operator's assessment that the noise impacts of the second runway might be smaller than for similar scale options in the consultation. On balance, we do not support a second runway at Luton.

It must be stressed that these maps are only indicative, pending detailed design work and the submission of a planning application by the operator. They should not therefore be taken to be formal safeguarding maps.

Map of Luton - runway moved South and extended

 Map of Luton - runway extended

Smaller South East airports

11.93 Small airports have an important part to play in the future provision of airport capacity in the South East. Their ability to provide services to meet local demand, and thereby help relieve pressures on the main airports, will be particularly important in the period before a new runway in the South East is built.

Picture of a south east airport

11.94 There is support from a wide range of stakeholders that the small airports in the South East should be allowed to cater for as much demand as they can attract. And from the studies undertaken for the White Paper and the responses to the consultation, it appears that some further development could be possible at any of the smaller airports that have been assessed without insurmountable environmental constraints.

11.95 To help the small airports in the South East achieve their development aims, regional and local planning frameworks should take account of the benefits that development at the smaller airports could provide, and consider policies which facilitate the delivery of growth at these airports. The specific details of development at any airport should remain a matter of local determination through the planning system.

11.96 London City provides services within the UK as well as to a wide range of key European destinations such as Paris, Amsterdam and Zurich. Our forecasts show that the airport is likely to grow steadily and that this growth would not be significantly affected by the addition of runway capacity at the major London airports. It is particularly well placed to serve a niche business market. Several of the surrounding local authorities supported growth to 5mppa. The airport operator believes that with some further development a higher throughput could be achieved.

11.97 There was recognition in the consultation of the valuable role of Southampton as a regional airport and support for some growth to allow it to cater for local demand. Currently, Southampton services continental hubs and a range of other destinations. The airport operator doubts that the airport could reach the capacity of 7mppa suggested in the consultation document and believes that, within its current boundary, the airport would more likely grow to a capacity of 2 to 2.5mppa. Norwich provides domestic and European short-haul services and offers the potential to interline to long haul destinations through a continental hub. Again, we believe that there is scope for the airport to grow to satisfy local demand.

11.98 The operators of Southend, Lydd and Manston argue that their airports could grow substantially and each has plans for development. The potential of other airports, including Shoreham, and Biggin Hill, should also not be overlooked.

11.99 We consider that all these airports could play a valuable role in meeting local demand and could contribute to regional economic development. In principle, we would support their development, subject to relevant environmental considerations.

11.100 The future role of Cambridge airport was considered. However, the local planning authority has adopted a policy for housing development on this site and this has serious implications for the future of the aircraft maintenance operation based at the airport. This issue is addressed below in the section on Alconbury.

11.101 The ability of business aviation to gain access to the main airports in South East will continue to be problematic as capacity constraints cause aiports to focus on more valuable commercial traffic. The Government recognises the important contribution made by small airports in the South East in providing capacity for business aviation. We support the adoption of policies which encourage the continued provision of these services. We sought views in the consultation on six existing business aviation aerodromes which we felt had potential to provide additional capacity to cater for business aviation demand: Farnborough, Biggin Hill, Blackbushe, Fairoaks, Farnborough, Northolt and Southend. There was a relatively limited, but generally, positive, response, although a number of local residents and others expressed concern about development of Biggin Hill.

11.102 Northolt is a 'core site' within the Ministry of Defence's future estates plan. Planning is well advanced to release several MOD London sites by moving other units to Northolt. It is the closest active military airfield to London and is of strategic importance. Alternative facilities could not be easily replicated elsewhere without significant adverse impacts on Government business. We do not believe that military flying from Northolt would be precluded by a third runway at Heathrow, although there would be some loss of flexibility at both airports. We considered options for development of Northolt as a satellite runway of Heathrow but these were rejected in favour of other development options.

11.103 Our studies suggested that North Weald and White Waltham might offer potential capacity in the longer term for business aviation. Future use of North Weald is being considered by the local planning authority, but it likely to be severely affected by our decision to support a new runway at Stansted.


11.104 We consulted on an option to develop Alconbury airfield into a niche airport providing freight, maintenance and low cost passenger services. This option was on a much smaller scale than the other development options in the South East.

11.105 The concept of Alconbury as a specialist freight facility attracted little support, especially from within the industry. The East of England Development Agency and the East of England Regional Assembly did, however, support Alconbury's development as an aircraft maintenance facility in view of the potential loss of Cambridge Airport as a base for aircraft maintenance. The Government recognises the value of the current operation there to UK aviation and the importance of not losing the highly skilled workforce. This should not, however, affect consideration of options for relocation to Alconbury or other possible locations.

Alternative proposals

11.106 In the second edition of the consultation document and elsewhere the Government made clear it was open to, and would consider, any serious and worked-up alternative ideas. The following proposals were considered:

  • Goodwin Sands - a new island airport east of Deal in Kent comprising two sites, each with two runways, with a total capacity of 120mppa.
  • London Oxford - a new four-runway airport near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, with a capacity of 120mppa.
  • Marinair - a new four-runway island airport in the Thames Estuary north east of the Isle of Sheppey.
  • Redhill - development of Redhill aerodrome into an airport capable of handling 15mppa.
  • Sheppey - a new two-runway airport on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent with a capacity of 75mppa and the potential to grow to four runways beyond 2030.
  • Thames Reach - a new four-runway airport on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent (close to the Cliffe option), with a potential capacity of 120mppa.

11.107 In each case, our assessment took account of the promoter's own submission and any further information that was required to ensure a reasonable level of consistency with appraisal of the Government's own options. Our appraisal focused on the forecast passenger demand, an assessment of costs and benefits (including costs of airport construction and provision of necessary road and rail infrastructure), environmental impacts, and any other issues that were considered likely to be significant at a given location.

11.108 In reaching a view on the merits of these alternative proposals compared with options in the consultation, our assessment was informed by two other broad considerations. The balanced and measured approach we have taken to decisions about airport capacity summarised in Chapter 2 includes minimising the need for airport development in new locations by making best use of existing capacity where possible. Also, it was evident from responses to the consultation that development of a major new airport - especially as an alternative or second South East hub - would very probably be viable only with substantial financial support of some kind from the Government.

11.109 A number of consultees called on Government to consider new airport options in the Thames Estuary or similar locations, on the basis that the impacts would not be as great as development of existing airports. The Government has considered the proposals put forward during the consultation, in addition to the two estuarine sites for large new airports that were considered at various stages of the SERAS study: 11 Cliffe and The Cant (an island site in the Thames Estuary). Although, the Cliffe option was taken forward for further detailed study, The Cant option was dropped at the preliminary stage of the study.

11.110 Our analysis identified a number of issues of concern common to all proposals for offshore or coastal airports, noting that:

  • construction costs would be significantly higher than for onshore sites and less certain. The additional costs would be incurred largely in the early phases of development before any revenues are generated;
  • construction might be several years longer for an offshore site;
  • costs of related transport infrastructure could be very high. The further the distance from the key London markets, the more heavily an airport would depend on dedicated, high-speed rail access and sufficient terminal capacity in Central London. A new railway would be expensive and difficult to provide. There is little spare capacity at the London terminals. Substantial additional road infrastructure would also be required;
  • some impacts (such as noise), would be reduced but damage to sensitive habitats is often more likely, and some new environmental impacts would need to be considered, such as marine ecology, and effects on tidal flow. Land-take at the site would be less than for onshore locations, though land might be still required for associated facilities and for new road and rail links. Risks posed by bird strike would be expected to be greater at estuarine sites, especially those on or close to the shoreline;
  • forecasting suggests that the financial viability of a new estuarine airport would be likely to depend on government intervention to try to ensure early take up of new capacity by passengers and airlines. Although offshore airports have been built elsewhere in other parts of the world, none of them is part of a multi-airport system as would be the case in the South East. The level of intervention required to ensure success would almost certainly entail significant costs to the public sector.

11.111 Additionally, Goodwin Sands would deliver poor economic benefits in relation to its high costs. The airport would be a long way from key centres of demand.

11.112 Insufficient information was supplied by the promoters of the Marinair proposal to enable a meaningful comparative appraisal of its potential costs and benefits. However, from the limited information provided it would appear likely that the Marinair project would be prohibitively expensive, both in terms of airport construction and road and rail links.

11.113 The Sheppey proposal would generate significantly lower net economic benefits than a combination of one new runway at each of Stansted and Heathrow. The promoters' heavy reliance on high speed rail access with limited road connections was considered to be highly optimistic. There are also uncertainties as to whether the site proposed is adequate to handle the assumed level of traffic.

11.114 Although the Thames Reach promoters managed to mitigate some of the drawbacks of Cliffe, a substantial part of the airport site would impact, as did Cliffe, on areas of very high ecological value that are protected under the EC Habitats Directive, and we have doubts whether the passenger numbers envisaged could be handled within the land-take given the likely demand for air travel over the day. We were concerned that the surface access proposals were not robust and over-dependent on rail. In the light of the appraisal of the Cliffe option, there remain significant concerns about the risk of bird strike and the efficacy of the measures proposed to address it. The capital costs assumed by the promoters are much less than those for Cliffe, including for surface access.

11.115 So far as the London Oxford proposal is concerned, it is accepted that the location of the airport in relation to centres of demand would mean that it could be well used without the need for market intervention by the Government. Nevertheless, the promoters accept that such a project could not be financed conventionally by the private sector. However, the net economic benefits of the airport with four runways by 2030 are estimated to be no greater than for a two-runway strategy at Stansted and Heathrow. There would be a need for substantial new investment in road and rail access, and there were significant doubts about the feasibility and capacity of the promoters' proposals in this regard. The proposal would require a very large land-take, including the loss of 23 Grade II listed buildings; and capacity might be constrained by the high chimney of Didcot power station.

11.116 In the light of these particular concerns, the evidence currently available to the Government, and all other relevant factors, the Government does not consider that any of the above proposals can be considered to offer a solution that is both superior to the preferred options for development of existing major airports, as previously described, and clearly viable within the timescale concerned.

11.117 Development of Redhill would provide lower capacity and hence generate lower net economic benefits than we estimate for a new runway at Stansted. There are doubts about the promoter's claim that Redhill could be developed more speedily than a new runway at Stansted, not least because of the time needed for consultation and the technical work required to resolve airspace issues satisfactorily. There are also doubts about the land-take assumed, the provision of car parking space, construction impacts and the capital costs.

11.118 A planning application for Redhill's development was submitted in 1993, without success. A key issue in the planning inquiry at that time was a serious airspace problem caused by Redhill's proximity to Gatwick. The project promoters' recent submission put forward proposals for addressing this issue. However, National Air Traffic Services remain unconvinced of the feasibility of the Redhill proposals to address what they regard as the particular challenges of this location. They consider that development at Redhill would not yield the claimed capacity there, and could prejudice current and future capacity at Gatwick. The Civil Aviation Authority considers that the evidence put forward in support of the Redhill proposal has not shown convincingly that the capacities are achievable, and that further modelling would be required to demonstrate whether the capacity claimed by the promoters of the Redhill proposal could be realised without undue impact on capacity at Gatwick or other airports in the London area. Any reduction in Gatwick's capacity would undermine one of the benefits claimed for the Redhill proposal, which is to increase throughput at Gatwick.

11.119 At present, in the light of the concerns expressed by National Air Traffic Services and the Civil Aviation Authority, and the absence of evidence to prove or disprove Redhill's contentions, we remain unconvinced that development at Redhill would be a feasible proposition and we do not therefore support it.

1 The Communities Plan ('Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future'), ODPM, 2003.

2 See Bibliography.

3 Unless otherwise stated, economic costs and benefits for options in the South East are those reported in Airport Development Options in the National Consultation Documents: New Green Book Revisions February 2003. All benefits and costs calculated assuming a 3.5 per cent discount rate, 3 year benefit delay and cost optimisation bias.

4 These were reported at over £5 billion. This is likely to be a significant underestimate because that calculation assumed some intervention in the market to direct airlines to Stansted so as to build up a hub there. However, it seems likely that natural traffic growth at Stansted will be strong enough to support development in line with market demand without such measures, and this will provide higher economic benefits - of the order of £9 billion.

5 This is described in more detail in the next section, on Heathrow Airport.

6 See paragraph 5.36 of the Airports Policy White Paper 1985 (Cm 9542).

7 The net benefits were reported as over £6 billion, but could be higher if greater throughput could be achieved with a third runway than originally assumed.

8 A report of this further technical work will be made available at the same time as this White Paper.

9 These were set out in the first bullet of paragraph 5.18 of the airport operator's consultation response, Responsible growth: essentially, moving the runway 100 metres to the east and a revised runway and taxiway layout.

10 Estimates suggest £4.4 billion for the wide-spaced option, and about £2 billion for the close parallel option.

11 The South East and East of England Regional Air Services (SERAS) Study was commissioned by the Government in 1999 to consider options for development of airports and air services over the next 30 years.