27th February 2007
Road and rail issues relating to second Stansted runway
Attributable to SSE Chairman Peter Sanders
Today’s announcement by BAA, the Spanish-owned operator of Stansted Airport, regarding the road and rail improvements necessary to support its second runway proposal utterly fails to grasp the scale of the problems that would arise if Stansted were, as proposed, to become bigger than today’s Heathrow.
In fact BAA’s proposals would lead to an extra million people a week travelling to or from the airport, and the pressure on the road and rail infrastructure would be far greater than at Heathrow today. Heathrow not only has the benefit of London Underground connections but, as an international hub, more than a third of its passengers (36 percent) never leave the airport, simply transferring from one plane to another. Stansted, however, is a very different operation – its focus being on short-haul leisure flights taking UK residents to Mediterranean beaches and weekend breaks to European cities – and has minimal international hub traffic.
Significantly, BAA’s emphasis is not upon investing in rail infrastructure but on building more and more car parking spaces at Stansted which already has, proportionately, more car parking spaces than any other airport in the world. Car parking is the hidden cost of cheap flights and accounted for 74 percent of the Stansted’s profit last year which may help explain BAA’s reluctance to address the rail investment backlog, never mind the additional infrastructure needed to serve the extra million people a week who would travel to and from BAA’s hoped-for two runway airport – mostly by road.
BAA’s failure to invest in rail infrastructure to support Stansted’s expansion over the years has resulted in a deterioration in local train services with overcrowded and unreliable commuter trains. Even Stansted’s own passengers are increasingly using the roads rather than train to access the airport: the proportion of passengers travelling to and from the airport by rail fell from 28.8 percent in 2004 to 25.0 percent in 2005. The number of car journeys continues to increase despite BAA’s attempts to use coach services to disguise the underlying trend away from rail transport.
BAA’s reluctance to invest in rail infrastructure is completely out of step with the Government policy of achieving a radical shift to public transport. There is already a backlog of over £500m of rail investment which should have been funded by BAA to support Stansted’s passenger throughput which has grown from under 4 million passengers in 1995 to almost 24 million today.
Even the latest planning application for expansion on the existing runway, refused by Uttlesford District Council for reasons including surface access concerns, is evidence of BAA’s reticence to invest in infrastructure improvements. There is no reason to believe that this latest consultation will be of any value whatsoever in taking account of local and environmental concerns and must be seen for what it is: merely a case of BAA going through the motions with yet another largely meaningless and pointless consultation.
A second runway is no closer to implementation today than it was when the Air Transport White Paper appeared in late 2003. Then, the expectation was that a second runway would be developed by 2011. Today, BAA acknowledges that the earliest possible completion date is eight years off at 2015 subject, of course, to planning permission which will – at the very least – be problematic in view of overwhelming opposition from almost all quarters including its own customers.