On the day that Gordon Brown will give the go ahead for a third runway at Heathrow Nick Cuff argues that expansion of smaller regional airports - Southend, Lydd, Shoreham, Biggin Hill and Kent International - should be considered as alternative strategy. Nick is a Councillor in the London Borough of Wandsworth.
There is no doubt that the South East needs to expand its airport capacity following the sharp growth of air travel. This increase is set to continue, with the Department of Transport anticipating UK demand to grow from 228 million passenger movements in 2005, to 490 million by 2030.
However, forecasts can be disputed, after all economics is not an exact science. Many would argue that the Government’s figures are wildly optimistic. However, most would not dispute that air passenger volume will continue to rise. Like it or not, we cannot ignore the economic need for further expansion if the economy is to remain competitive.
The problem with current policy is not its support for aviation growth. The problem is where that growth should be directed within the South East. The 2003 White Paper on aviation boxed the Government into further expansion at Heathrow and Stansted.
The Paper spent a good deal of time ruling out all other alternations. In the South East, the creation of a new hub airport from scratch was rejected because capital costs were thought to be prohibitive.
The Paper also briefly considered increasing the volume of traffic at smaller regional hubs. Whilst it supported expansion in principle, little detail was given - the clear focus was elsewhere. In essence the Government’s line was: great if it happens, but not too bothered if not.