UK airports: regions held back by south east delays

Government's prevarication over airport capacity in the south east is hampering regional airports' hopes for greater connectivity, according to the House of Commons' transport select committee of MPs. In a new report on surface transport connections to airports, the select committee says government has made little progress with development of a national strategy for improving road and rail links to UK airports. Lack of a decision on whether to expand Gatwick or Heathrow is making the situation worse, the report says.

Committee chair Louise Ellman said government has failed to develop an integrated approach to transport planning: "Without a vision for the country, local areas and regional airports cannot be expected to deliver their own plans effectively. When a decision is finally made about airport expansion in the south east, this must be accompanied by a clear plan to optimise connectivity between regional transport hubs across the country."

The committee report acknowledges that government is developing a national policy statement on airports, but this is focused on the south east and held back by delay over the decison over Heathrow or Gatwick. Meanwhile long term planning efforts by local and regional transport bodies and those of Highways England and Network Rail will remain in the dark.

These plans need to do a lot more to bring about a modal shift from road to rail and bus transportation, the report says. It also points to a lack of a national government strategy on encouraging people to use public transport instead of the road network. Such a strategy should underpin airports' surface access plans, which can act as powerful levers for putting policy into practice, but airports' plans do not come under enough scrutiny, the committee says. The devolution agenda is changing the way regional planning is carried out, with regional organisations such as Greater Manchester, Transport for the North and others seeking legal status as statutory transport bodies. This, the select committee says, is creating a confusing picture over who is responsible and where the boundaries lie for planning and paying for surface links to airports.

"Government should take the lead in identifying and realising the economic benefits of improved surface access around airports. Where there is compelling evidence that airport expansion would act as a catalyst for significant local and national economic growth, the necessary support and coordination should be provided," Ellman said.