House of Commons Library

Airports in the South East of England

Published Tuesday, June 5, 2018

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 Heathrow is not covered in this paper. For more information see our separate paper: CBP 1136.

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. In July 2017 it began work on developing a new long-term aviation strategy. A ‘next steps’ document was published in April 2018. The strategy is focused on the consumer offering, safety and security, and ensuring that the UK aviation industry can grow following the UK’s anticipated exit from the EU in 2019.

In 2012 the Government set up the independent Airports Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Howard Davies, 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 the three years since, the Government has said that it supports Heathrow expansion and on this basis has brought forward a draft National Policy Statement for approval by Parliament.

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 CBP 323. Further papers are available on Heathrow expansion, CBP 1136, and proposals for a Thames Estuary airport, CBP 6144. These and other briefings on aviation can be found on the Aviation Briefings Page of the Parliament website.

Commons Briefing papers SN02893

Author: Louise Butcher

Topic: Aviation

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