18 November 2002

North Kent best for new airport, say councils

By Paul Marston, Transport Correspondent

Expansion of air travel should be focused on a new £13 billion airport in north Kent financed by levies on passengers flying from elsewhere, local authorities urge today.

The Strategic Aviation Special Interest Group, which represents 74 councils across the country, says ministers should approve the option of a 24-hour, four-runway hub at Cliffe, east of Gravesend, as the "visionary" solution to the airport capacity crisis.

The group says that the Government's forecast of South East demand growing from 120 million passengers a year to 300 million by 2030 is likely to prove an underestimate.

But it strongly opposes a third runway at Heathrow on environmental grounds, and argues that Stansted would not be as successful if made into a four-runway base because it could not operate around the clock.

All-day, all-night flying at Cliffe would allow a huge expansion of air freight, and provide Europe's best connection opportunities for long-haul flights from South East Asia.

In its response to the Government's consultation on runways, the group says the
geographical isolation of Cliffe would minimise the effects of airport noise and pollution. A fast rail link to London could be achieved via the high-speed route between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel.

However, the document acknowledges that carriers would require incentives to switch to Cliffe, and that construction would not be commercially viable without changes to airline charges at existing airports.

It suggests a "swingeing" emissions tax on flights in and out of Heathrow, plus a general rise in landing fees at other South East gateways.

Though the report does not specify amounts, it suggests the increases would have to be big enough to deter passengers from using current airports.

Richard Worrall, the group's chairman, said: "The time has come for bold, imaginative solutions. The days of ad hoc incremental growth - an extra runway here, a new terminal there - must be ended forever.

"Expanding airports that are already congested or in the wrong place is a short-term answer that fails to address the needs of future generations."

The consultation on runway options ends later this month. Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, has promised to publish firm proposals in a White Paper next spring.