House of Commons Library

Airports in the South East of England

Published Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This paper looks at airport development in London and the South East under the present and previous governments, including the work of the Airports Commission, and how airports are planning to develop their current services.

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Please note that while Heathrow is covered in this paper in terms of its current operations, noise management etc., expansion is dealt with in a separate paper: SN1136.

The Labour Government’s 2003 aviation White Paper generally supported a ‘predict and provide’ approach, which envisioned demand for air transport in the South East increasing dramatically over the following 25 years. Consequently, it supported the construction of a second runway at Stansted and a third runway at Heathrow. Expansion at Gatwick would be limited by the Gatwick Agreement, which prevents expansion at Gatwick until 2019. It generally supported the growth of smaller airports in the South East, though it rejected plans to expand capacity in the Thames Estuary area.

The Coalition Government published its Aviation Policy Framework in March 2013 – this was largely a collection of technical changes that could be made to airports to increase capacity, improve efficiency and ensure that aviation growth in the UK is sustainable in terms of noise and environmental pollution.

The Airports Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Howard Davies, was set up in September 2012 and tasked with making recommendations as to the timing and scale of any future airport capacity. Although it shortlisted a new runway at Gatwick in its interim report, it ruled this out in favour of Heathrow in its final report published in July 2015.  In October 2016 the Government indicated its support for Heathrow expansion and said that it would bring forward a National Policy Statement for aviation in early 2017, setting out its approach to airport expansion in the future.

While a new Thames Estuary Airport has effectively been ruled out, there may be scope for expansion at Gatwick and Stansted in the longer term. In the short term smaller airports in the South East, such as London City, are continuing to expand. There is also a campaign to reopen Manston Airport in Kent to some form of commercial traffic.

Information on the other airports in the UK outside of the South East and London can be found in HC Library briefing paper SN323. Further papers are available on Heathrow expansion, SN1136, and proposals for a Thames Estuary airport, SN6144. These and other briefings on aviation can be found on the Aviation Topical Page of the Parliament website.

Commons Briefing papers SN02893

Author: Louise Butcher

Topic: Aviation

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