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Wednesday 26 March 2014

Gatwick Or Bust

One hates to be unkind to the Evening Standard and its transport editor Matthew Beard, but yesterday’s article on the proposed expansion of Gatwick Airport, “Turbo-charged Gatwick airport would bring Olympic-style boost to south London” is uncomfortably close to being advertorial material. On top of that, it over-eggs the potential pudding spectacularly.
New Gatwick? Maybe

Yes, there is a demand for more airport capacity in the London area, and yes, Gatwick would be in the “less unacceptable” category when it comes to adding a second runway (versus the wholesale disruption that would ensue if one were added at Heathrow, for instance). But the Olympic comparison is fatuous, and the benefits over-exaggerated. Let’s start with the artist’s impression.

This appears to show a second, parallel, runway to the south of the existing one, and a new terminal, together with its facilities, arranged between the two, with its entrance at the east of the site. That will get the locals opposing the land take, larger noise envelope, and yet more traffic. So the timescale, which suggests construction starting by 2020, is probably realistic.

Then it all gets wildly overblown: the enlarged Airport, readers are told, “would lead to new jobs and homes in the ‘Gatwick triangle’ stretching from the airport to the south coast towns of Southampton and Dover”. Reality check time: how far does Heathrow’s area of influence extend? Reading and the surrounding area, perhaps. So around 25 to 30 miles top whack, then.

For Gatwick, that would translate to south London, and the corridor along the M23, M25 and the Brighton main line. Maybe that would carry on to part of the south coast. But not to Southampton and Dover. And the claim of an “Olympic-style boost” is silly: there was one Olympic Games in town, and it was a one-off event. Sure, there will be jobs and houses. But not on the scale suggested.

We can check this out by looking at the only Airport in the UK to have added another runway recently, that being Manchester. More jobs have come in the south Manchester area, new business parks have been established nearby, and transport links are being improved. But that new runway has been open for more than 12 years. So we’re looking at 2035 to 2040 for the Gatwick effect.

And Terry Farrell’s assertion that there will be “better rail connectivity” is an interesting one: the line from London’s Victoria and London Bridge termini that serves Gatwick is pretty much at capacity right now, and providing more would be prohibitively expensive. That’s the problem when you have an Airport on a commuter route so close to a city the size of London.

The Gatwick proposal is worth looking at – but we should be realistic.

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