Utilising Capacity at Airports in the South East.

Plenary on 2015-09-08
Session date: 
September 8, 2015
Question By: 
Caroline Pidgeon
Liberal Democrats
Asked Of: 
Caroline Pidgeon


Given the extensive political opposition to a third runway at Heathrow and the inevitable legal and planning challenges that will arise it is almost certain expansion is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future at Heathrow.  In light of these realities do you believe sufficient attention has been given to improving surface transport to ensure that the significant spare air capacity at existing airports in the south east is fully utilised.


Answer for Utilising Capacity at Airports in the South East.

Answer for Utilising Capacity at Airports in the South East.

Answered By: 
Caroline Pidgeon

Sir Howard Davies (former Chair, Airports Commission):  First of all, I am not sure I could accept the premise that expansion at Heathrow is unlikely in the foreseeable future.  We think expansion is possible with a timetable of about 2026, which in spite of my advanced age I still regard as ‘foreseeable’. 

Undoubtedly we believe that in the interim period a lot should - and could - be done to improve surface access to other airports.  As I said in response to Mayor Biggs, we believe it is very important that the capacity that is available in the southeast is made more attractive and more useable in the interim period. 

In our interim report we made a set of recommendations, some of which are going forward.  For example, enhancing the station at Gatwick is happening, paid for partly by Gatwick.  Improving the Gatwick Express rolling stock, which we also recommended, is happening.  Paperless ticketing at Gatwick is coming.  The Department for Transport and Network Rail are looking at the Brighton Main Line capacity issues as part of their long-term process.

We recommended that more should be done on Stansted.  Frankly, we were a bit disappointed because the initial draft published for consultation on the Stansted Express did not look in detail at the possibilities of four-tracking, which would improve connections to Stansted considerably.  Therefore, we wrote to Network Rail to say that it should do and that the final study should look at that. 

There is also work going ahead, which we recommended and which the Department for Transport accepted, on a study about southern rail access to Heathrow.  It is something that would be good with or without expansion because there are areas to the south of Heathrow that are very poorly served by public transport.  That should be done anyway. 

We do believe that quite a lot needs to be done.  There is some work at Luton as well looking at a way of improving the rail services to the airport and the airport to station link, which is pretty clunky at the moment.  Southend will get a boost from Crossrail at Liverpool Street.  City Airport will also get a boost through Crossrail.

There are some things happening as a result of Crossrail and improvements at Gatwick but we do think more is necessary.  We set out, particularly in our interim report, a set of recommendations that we thought would be useful for the future.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  Thank you for that answer.  My first set of questions has been answered because you were saying there has been work but there is clearly a lot more that needs to be done.

Let us look particularly at Heathrow.  Can you confirm in your report that you have used full utilisation figures?  About 148 million passengers is your assumption for the commercial case for expanding Heathrow.  You have assumed full utilisation in your figures?

Philip Graham (Head of Secretariat, Airports Commission):  We assumed the build-up of passengers over time.  Yes, by the time you get to 2050, we are assuming the level of passengers that are in our report at 2050.  We are not assuming that that level of passengers magically appears on day one.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  When you were looking at the surface transport access, it seems that you assume partial utilisation of the airport at only around 125 million passengers per annum.  That is very different to the commercial case in my understanding and the analysis I have seen of your data.  We are looking at more like 70,000 additional trips per day.  Over half of these are likely to be on public transport.  Is there not a huge chunk of demand missing out of your analysis supporting your case for Heathrow?  How can you ensure that public transport links will be able to cope with any expansion?

Philip Graham (Head of Secretariat, Airports Commission):  The first thing to say is that I do not think there is the inconsistency between our commercial analysis and the surface access analysis.  The surface access analysis focused on the demand for transport in 2030 in terms of the quantified work that we did.  We used exactly the same figures for passenger numbers at the airport in 2030 in our surface access analysis as we did in our commercial analysis. 

The reason we focused on 2030 is because, even looking at 2030, we were having to look well beyond existing investment plans in the road and rail networks serving these airports.  We already had to work with TfL, with Network Rail and with the Highways Agency to access what the next round of investment projects might be and to make some assumptions about that.  They - and we - were comfortable about making those kinds of assumptions up to 2030 but they - and we - accept that there is a degree of risk associated with that.  Trying to make those assumptions out to 2050 would simply risk entering into a world of make-believe. 

We have considered the longer-term pressures in an unquantified way.  We think there are things that the Government and transport providers could do over that longer period to deal with continuing growth at the airport.  In terms of the modelling, we focused on 2030 because that was the furthest out where we felt we could come to some rational views about what the investment programme to that point might look like. 

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  It is interesting because I have seen analysis by people - who are far more experienced in this field than I am - who believe you have used different figures almost to suit your argument. 

Let us park to that one side.  What I really want to get at is that only 40% of Heathrow passengers currently arrive on public transport.  If Heathrow expands, you have already said you might need to have a congestion charge on the roads around the airport.  This would lead to more passengers leaving cars at home and taking public transport options.  Did your analysis take into account this additional effect on demand for public transport and whether the existing or planned links could cope with the extra numbers?

Sir Howard Davies (former Chair, Airports Commission):  Yes.  We have shown in the report that we believe it is possible.  We have explained that there are some parts of the system that will be quite congested.  Actually, they will be quite congested anyway whether or not you expand Heathrow; such as some elements of the Piccadilly line, for example, in central London. 

We do believe that a combination of western rail access, which is in the plans and coming: the Crossrail arrival; the link in from Old Oak Common from HS2; the improved capacity on the Piccadilly line that is already anticipated; and we believe a southern rail access route through Staines would together improve the capacity of Heathrow to deal with people arriving on public transport in a way that would meet the expansion up to 2030.  Between 2030 and 2050, as Phil says, there would be further growth.  That would need to be planned and managed in the overall investment programme depending on what happens to background demand in that area as well.

We do believe that this is feasible and that an increase in public transport modal share can be engineered.  We estimate it goes up to 53%.

Philip Graham (Head of Secretariat, Airports Commission):  It goes up to 53%.  The introduction of a congestion charge could increase that a little further.  The key impact in driving public transport modal share is the fact that the public transport offer is better than the one that is available at the moment.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  Overall, I am not in favour of expansion of Heathrow.  What I am concerned about in this report is that it feels to me that you have underestimated the additional demand for public transport that this expansion would cause.  You are assuming things like Crossrail 2 are built and funded and even the Bakerloo line extension.  All of these things are behind a lot of this stuff.  All of these projects are not even funded yet.  Some of them are still sketches on paper.

Sir Howard Davies (former Chair, Airports Commission):  They are not assumed.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  My understanding of all the background reports is that you are assuming all these projects are.

Philip Graham (Head of Secretariat, Airports Commission):  We are not assuming that any further work on the Bakerloo extension is funded.  I will double-check, but I do not think so.

Our extended baseline does include Crossrail 2.  However, the impact of Crossrail 2 on access to Heathrow are pretty much zero.  If you were expanding Gatwick, Crossrail 2 has an impact.  If you were expanding Stansted, it has a big impact.  In terms of Heathrow, it really does not make any difference.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  I feel there is bit of a hole here in the work that you have done.  I do not think public transport will cope with the increased demand that will come forward.