Gatwick plan should have Croydon ready for take-off

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Opportunities for prosperity for our borough should increase if the Sussex airport’s expansion scheme goes ahead, writes DAVID CALLAM

gatwick-airport-0011Croydon should be jumping for joy at the prospect of a £9 billion investment in Gatwick that would add a second runway at the West Sussex airport and could increase capacity to 87 million passengers a year.

You may think I’m stretching credibility, not to mention geography, to claim money spent at Gatwick will be good for Croydon’s economy. But I think it’s in Croydon’s interests, as well as those of the airport, to strengthen the links that already exist.

The key feature is ease of access – by rail particularly. Gatwick is just 20 minutes by fast train from East Croydon and that means just half an hour and one change from areas of high unemployment like Thornton Heath, Selhurst and South Norwood. We could see thousands of Croydon’s otherwise unemployed – particularly younger people – travelling south for well-paid and secure work in hundreds of different jobs.

For the airport, south London – and Croydon in particular – is its largest and most convenient pool of available labour. The airport has taken part in jobs fairs in Croydon in the past, but that was in the “bad old days” when the dead hand of British Airports Authority discouraged initiatives at Gatwick lest they might detract from its principal London investment at Heathrow.

Expansion at Gatwick is the most likely next step in aviation provision for London and the south-east because it is the most cost-effective of all the options.

Gatwick is already the best connected of the three major airports, with a main railway line running through it that connects directly to London Bridge, St Pancras International and Victoria, via East Croydon. Once Thameslink is completed the airport will be able to offer one-change services, via Peterborough, to the north of England and Scotland.

Gatwick’s £9 billion development cost compares favourably with any of the three proposals for Heathrow (£14 billion, £17 billion and £18 billion respectively), Stansted (£30 billion), the Isle of Grain (£50 billion) or Boris Island in the Thames Estuary (£80 billion).

Gatwick is also the quickest airport expansion to deliver, estimated to be ready for service by 2023, compared with 2025 or 2026 at Heathrow (depending on the option chosen) and 2029 at Stansted or for either of the island projects.

And Gatwick is the least destructive of the existing airports, with the demolition of just 300 homes, compared with as many as 2,700 at Heathrow and 1,000 at Stansted. It is also less destructive than the Isle of Grain proposal, which would require the demolition of 2,000 homes.

Expansive plans: Gatwick's Stewart Wingate

Expansive plans: Gatwick’s Stewart Wingate

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport’s chief executive, says there is a robust and compelling case for going ahead with the plans, which can be privately financed. He believes an expansion at Gatwick is the best and most deliverable solution to London’s lack of aviation capacity.

Gatwick Airport’s plans have the support of local authorities, including West Sussex County Council and Kent County Council. They also have the support of business groups such as Sussex Enterprise and Gatwick Diamond Initiative, which includes the business community in Croydon.

Wingate said: “A two-runway Gatwick Airport, as part of a constellation of three major airports surrounding London, will provide flexibility in an industry where the only constant is change.”

This being Britain, no doubt some will beg to differ.

They will predict a tidal wave of public resistance. They will insist there is no need for any new runways in the south-east. They will argue that Stansted Airport is less than half full, that larger aircraft are coming into use and that there is sufficient airport capacity for another 30 years or more.

When asked how France built a high-speed railway line from its capital to the tunnel 10 years sooner than Britain managed to construct its link from London, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing is reported to have said: “Ah yes, but we didn’t consult the rabbits.”

If we need added runway capacity in the London area, and plenty of well-informed people believe we do, I would rather build it at Gatwick and look forward to the added prosperity that could bring to the whole of the borough of Croydon.

Previous commentaries by David Callam:

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9 Responses to Gatwick plan should have Croydon ready for take-off

  1. Completely support the economic arguments but with the Brighton Mainline full how do travellers get taken away from the airport without even more dangerous levels of overcrowding on the line?

  2. Utter nonsense. The rail line is already at capacity add to this the 100’s of 1000’s of commuters flats Croydon Council is giving permission to build and the Selhurst bottleneck . It is likely that if this were to go ahead Network Rail would go back to their plan to re route Gatwick services via Elmers End.

    • If Gatwick spends £9 billion on a new runway, then it seems likely that there will be investment on the rail route, too.
      There are already plans to relieve the Brighton mainline with trains to other south coast destinations travelling via Oxted to the east and West Croydon and Horsham to the west.
      There is also the possibility of longer trains – many of the existing ones could be extended to 12.
      There is the question of upgraded signalling that would allow trains to be run closer together without compromising on safety.
      And then there is the matter of the almost constantly empty Gatwick Express, four trains an hour into Victoria. These trains, better priced, could relieve much of the current congestion, which tends to occur at peak times.
      And why run a dedicated service exclusively to Victoria when London Bridge, Farringdon and St Pancras International all offer much better connections for onward travel.

      • ndavies144 says:

        The problem isn’t capacity on the mainline, where there is room for improvement as you say, but Victoria itself.

        You can only turn around so many trains each hour and the smallest thing going wrong can screw things up for ages.

        The reason Paris built its RER lines, and we’ve finally cottoned on to with Crossrail and Thameslink, is to bypass the termini and get more trains in, through and out of the city as fast as possible rather than having dead time turning them round at the termini. Crossrail 2 as mooted would revive Waterloo rather than Victoria, but that may well be rejigged if a Gatwick expansion took place.

        The Gatwick Express was designed in BR days to separate airport from domestic traffic, but privatisation has long muddied those waters, as anyone getting on an already packed Southern train to find all the seats taken up with cases will know. Victoria will always be the most popular destination for inbound tourists (very few of whom leave London) due to its proximity to most of the hotel districts.

  3. Meanwhile, in news elsewhere, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate study puts 2012 among the 10 warmest years on record and says that Arctic sea ice is disappearing at unprecedented pace.

    Handing over a whacking great (short-term) planning gain to the aviation lobby, but will land all of us with a huge environmental hangover.

    There is an alternative – don’t build any more runways. If demand truly exceeds supply, then the airports and airlines can always put their prices up.

    • Of course, as ever Arfur, you are absolutely right.

      But there is a strong possibility that additional runway capacity will be built in south-east England in the next 20 years. The Gatwick option is less expensive, damaging to fewer local residents, and less damaging to the environment – both in terms of its location and build, and in the use of mass transit, rather than the motor car, once built.

      It is the least bad option.

      And it would benefit Croydon better than all others.

  4. Gatwick Express is MP pressure.

    When someone I know used to work at Gatwick all domestic trains were advertised as not calling at Gatwick/terminating at Clapham to force people onto Gatwick Express.

    This has changed since the franchises changed.

    BML2 is a very very long way off if it ever happens. Longer trains has pretty much happened with majority through Gatwick being at least 8 cars with majority of semi-fast/express trains being 12 cars. A genuine proposal to improve the BML and bottlenecks such as Windmill Junction and south of Gatwicks double track would be needed before I’m convinced about the seriously boosted Gatwick capacity.

  5. I take Stephen’s point. Thameslink 2000 is due for completion (keep everything crossed) by about 2020. But we could invest a billion or two on the Brighton mainline – another boost for Croydon’s economy – and Gatwick expansion would still be far better value for money than additional runways at Heathrow or Stansted.

    If Gatwick is finally chosen, I suspect there will be powerful, high-level lobbying in favour of an improved rail link.

    As for Arfur’s point: putting up fares to choke off demand is a British Rail ‘initiative’, tried and tested in the public sector. It brought about decades of decline that are now costing us a fortune to put right. Please can we learn from our mistakes, rather than repeating them?

  6. Freya George says:

    Agreed to the comment “There is an alternative – don’t build any more runways. If demand truly exceeds supply, then the airports and airlines can always put their prices up”
    At Gawtick airport there is services like airport parking Gatwick which is serving travellers to park safe and secure.

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