Airport Committee gets runway update

New 30 day consultation. Extending runway could unlock new business park with 1,000 jobs.

SACC 1Members of Southampton Airport Consultative Committee have heard how up to 1,000 new jobs could be created at a new Business Park if an extension to the runway gets the OK from Eastleigh Borough Council. The extra thousand jobs would be in addition to the 500 new jobs already promised by airport bosses should their expansion plans get cleared for take off.

The committee was told about the business park plans during an update on the progress of the planning application to extend the existing runway (Friday Feb 7).

Further 30 day Consultation

Committee members heard that during the public consultation that ended on January 3, the Council had received over 700 responses with about 70% opposed to expansion and that neighbouring local authorities in Winchester and Southampton have also objected. The airport’s Head of Planning told the committee that the objectors key concerns were Climate Change, noise, air pollution and traffic congestion and that the airport is actively working through the issues raised with Eastleigh Borough Council. There would therefore be a second 30-day public consultation period at the end of March.

This would mean that that the earliest the plan could be considered by Eastleigh Local Area Committee would be in May as the Council would be in purdah during April due to the local election campaign. A venue for the meeting has yet to be decided as the ground floor lobby of Eastleigh House won’t be big enough to accommodate the expected crowd.   It’s estimated that the work to extend the runway would take 12 months to complete so the airport hopes the new runway will be fully operational for the 2021 summer season.

Neil Garwood MD

MD Neil Garwood. ‘We are reliant on one operator’ Pic Southampton Airport Media Centre

Airport over reliance on one carrier

The airport Managing Director, Neil Garwood, told members that the runway extension was not just about growing business at the airport but securing it’s actual survival.

Mr Garwood explained that 90% of the airport’s passengers are travelling with just one carrier, Flybe, who have been struggling financially this year. Over the weekend it was reported in the Sunday Telegraph that Flybe is running out of cash and has asked the government for a £100 million bridging loan in order to keep trading.

The MD observed:

“We are looking ahead to the future with an airline that is not in the best of financial health.”

Overall passenger numbers declined last year after KLM and Aer Lingus withdrew services to Amsterdam and Cork and Flybe rationalised some of its routes. The airport, Mr Garwood said, needed a longer runway in order to attract new carriers and stay in business:

“It’s absolutely essential that the plans for the runway take place not just for growth but for the continuing sustainability and viability of the airport in the longer term with a sustainable airline mix, not just dependent on one airline.”

When asked if the airport’s plans had attracted the interest of any potential new carriers the MD responded by saying that airlines could set up new routes at short notice and that the airports own forecast for traffic growth was ‘conservative.”

New Airport Business Park won’t need Chickenhall lane link road

While the planning application predicts that the runway extension could generate another 500 jobs (an assertion disputed by objectors) the Airport’s Head of Planning and Development outlined tentative plans to develop the North East corner of the airport estate that could result in another 1,000 jobs being created.

The same twenty-two-and-a half hectare greenfield site has previously been earmarked for potential business use by Eastleigh Borough Council as the ‘Northern Business Park.’

Hemmed in by land belonging to Network Rail and the former British Rail Engineering works on Campbell Road  previous plans depended on the construction of a link road from Chickenhall Lane but the meeting heard that as the link road has proved too expensive and difficult to deliver, the airport was now working up proposals that would see access provided from the airport site.

New access for Campbell Road? 

It was also possible that the site could be further developed to incorporate the land owned by Network Rail and the Engineering Works and that could create a new access point to Campbell Road which currently is only accessible by a fragile narrow bridge.

The Head of Planning stated there would be opportunities for funding through the Solent LEP for the project which could result in a million square feet of space for hi-tech businesses, create 1,000 new jobs and bring “increased prosperity to the area” though in answer to a question from Eastleigh News it was confirmed that this would be contingent on first securing planning approval for the runway extension.

Greener landings and take-offs – but more noise under flight path

Further items on the agenda also referenced the planning application. The committee heard a report on the progress made towards the implementation of a new airspace strategy  designed to reduce aircraft emissions by making their landing and take-off patterns straighter and greener.

The proposed approach and departure flight-paths are certainly straighter and will mean fewer homes will be overflown but it was conceded that the “trade off” for those living directly under the flight path will be more noise – although the airport is working on a plan to offer subsidies for soundproofing to the worst effected households.

“Airlines still have much to do”

The committee was also told about the airport’s latest efforts to reduce their carbon emissions on the site. In future aircraft parked up between flights will plug into off-grid electricity to power their systems rather than rely on diesel generators and there are plans to replace the existing runway lights with low consumption LED lighting.

The MD said the airport aimed to be carbon neutral by 2030 “but airlines have still much to do.”

The meeting highlighted that the airport is still very much involved in a dialogue with Eastleigh to resolve issues raised during the consultation and to negotiate appropriate section 106 agreements – conditions and payments made by applicants to the planning authority toward the cost of additional infrastructure and mitigation measures that may be required as a result of the development.

The next meeting of the SACC is planned for June 26 by which time the planning application may well have been decided