16 December 2002

£800m airport plan near Gatwick

By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor

Secret plans for an £800m airport near Gatwick are under serious consideration by ministers preparing proposals to meet the soaring demand for air travel.

The project to develop an existing private aerodrome at Redhill into a full-scale airport for domestic and European flights is seen as the only means of circumventing a ban on expansion at the main West Sussex airport.

The proposed site in Surrey is just five miles away from Gatwick and would be linked to it by rail, but crucially it is just outside the area covered by the ban.

Last month the High Court overruled the Government's decision to exclude Gatwick from its options for new capacity in the South-east.

Ministers had decided to leave the West Sussex airport out of its plans because of the legal agreement between the Gatwick operator, BAA, and West Sussex County Council. It is now expected however that "London Redhill" will be among the options canvassed by the Government in a new consultation document due out early next year.

Backers of London Redhill insist that it would be a "stand-alone" facility with its own terminal rather than an adjunct to Gatwick as under previous proposals. They claim that it could be operational within four years of planning permission being granted. The proposal submitted to the Government says it would be a "rapid solution" to the lack of runway capacity in the South-east.

Supporters of the project said it would complement any expansion of Heathrow and Stansted, which would take 10 to 15 years to complete. Another less likely option, the establishment of a new international airport at Cliffe on the Kent marshes, could take considerably longer.

Although prosperous householders under the proposed flight paths at Redhill will oppose the development, its backers claim that only about half a dozen houses would have to be demolished. They also argue that the numbers affected by noise would be less than those
affected by light aircraft, helicopters and business jets which use the present aerodrome. No protected wildlife sites would be disturbed.

The plan being actively considered by ministers involves a 2.000-metre, east-west runway, parallel to that at Gatwick, with full check-in and immigration facilities designed for 15 million
passengers a year. Virtually all the land needed for the new complex is owned by Redhill Aerodrome Ltd and one of its shareholders, and no public money would be needed to finance the project.

The airport would free capacity at Gatwick and elsewhere for longer haul flights. It would be the London and European hub for flights to and from other UK airports.