The Anglian Region is one of the most successful English regions outside London and the South East in terms of prosperity and job growth. At its heart is the Cambridge hub which houses both the university, its related high tech or biotech developments and the associated science parks.

The region is characterised by above average incomes, job growth, growing population and lower than average unemployment

Major new housing and two developments of up to 90,000 new homes and the new town development of Northstowe characterise the current regional plans.

As part of this broad success story though, are particular concerns about the transport infrastructure which serves both the large commuter traffic between the region and London and the specific needs of Stansted the major airport in the area.

Commuter traffic is increasing as factors such as relative (to London) property prices make commuting seem more attractive

With respect to the impact of Stansted, written evidence to a forthcoming Transport Select Committee report on surface access to airports, from Essex Council said:

  1. London Stansted is one of the five Gateway International airports and 20m passengers travelled through the airport in 2014, an increase of 12% on the previous year. This significant level of passenger growth has continued in 2015 with numbers already exceeding 22m in 2015 and this level is expected to continue to rise. It carries nearly a quarter of a million tonnes of cargo each year rising 10% annually and provides employment for 18,000 people directly and an additional 11,000 indirectly. More importantly it has existing capacity to grow significantly within current planning permissions and could carry 35m passengers a year and provide an additional 15,000 jobs.[1]

Stansted has had a turbulent decade. BAA sold Stansted in February 2013 for £1.5 billion to the Manchester Airports Group (MAG) following divestment orders by the Competition Commission in March 2009.  Under its previous owner there had been a long-contested application to increase capacity at Stansted by building a second runway.  This application was dropped following statements of the Coalition Government about its opposition to such a proposal in May 2010.

It is clear, however, that despite that decision, Stansted continues to expand very fast under the MAG ownership. Written evidence from the Stansted Airport Consultative Committee (STACC) to a forthcoming Transport Select Committee report highlights the (rail) transport infrastructure constraints affecting the airport:

  1. There are two interlinked issues that need urgent attention – capacity and the need to provide time for adequate maintenance. The two-track nature of the railway means that problems cannot easily be circumnavigated and closure is anyway necessary to undertake routine maintenance and renewals. Routine maintenance means that it is virtually impossible to operate a passenger railway to meet early departures and late arrivals. Any disruption to the rail service on the route impacts on both commuters and airport travellers (passengers and workers); for passengers it can cause people to miss their flights. The future success of the airport will in part depend on the reputational reliability of the rail route; airlines will not be attracted to serve the airport and passengers will not choose to fly to and from the airport if the rail service cannot be relied on.
  1. STACC firmly believes that the West Anglia route needs to be four-tracked for as much of its length between London and the airport junction as is reasonably possible. A four-track railway would enable two lines to be kept open whilst the other two were closed for maintenance etc. and for services to be maintained on occasions when a train failure blocked a line. Earlier and later trains could be operated. There will, at some point, be the need to provide a second line in tunnel into the airport.[2]

Speculative concerns have been raised in some quarters about the possible attraction of the potential ‘spare capacity’ which Stansted appears to have might assume greater appeal if the decision over Heathrow/Gatwick expansion is delayed.

In the same evidence Essex County Council noted:

  1. Stansted Airport already has the immediate capacity to grow within its existing permissions. It has capacity to take a further 13 mppa, from 22 mppa to 35 mppa within current planning permissions and has permissions to operate 264,000 Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) per year (243,500 passenger ATMS and 20,500 cargo ATMs) without the need for major further capital investment. The Airport also has capacity to expand upto 45 mppa, on the single runway and a possible maximum of 275,000 ATMs per year through use of larger aircraft and more efficient use of capacity, as well as some relatively minor investment in infrastructure. Some estimates forecast that growth at the airport to 35 mppa could support 20,000 jobs while growth up to 45 mppa could support 24,000 jobs. ECC supports the immediate potential for Stansted to grow to its capacity and this will play a crucial role in the short term in providing additional capacity for London and the UK as other London airports experience capacity constraints.[3]

Its recommendations for surface access improvements included:

  1. Capacity improvements to M11 J8 –improvements on this already at capacity junction would support growth to Stansted airport as well as providing opportunities for housing growth locally.
  2. West Anglia mainline 4-tracking – along the Lea Valley between at least Tottenham Hale and Broxbourne to provide rail capacity to bring forward the delivery of 6,000 – 12,000 new homes and 2,000 – 5,000 additional jobs to support growth along the Lea Valley and wider London Stansted Cambridge corridor and, to enable a London – Stansted journey time of 30mins. 
  3. Safeguarding of second rail tunnel at Stansted – to enable airport expansion.
  4. A120 corridor dualling – we ask HM Government to consider our specific proposals on dualling the remaining sections of the A120 between Braintree – A12 and Hare Green to Harwich; the ports and logistics sector in this corridor has a turnover of £3bn per annum and employs over 32,000 people With investment, the economy could grow by £1.3bn.
  5. Creation of M11 J7a – to provide stronger links between Stansted airport and the economic opportunities that exist for Growth within the Harlow Enterprise Zone. 
  6. Upgrading of the M11 north of the airport between J8 – J9 – to provide stronger and more efficient links between Stansted airport, and the economic opportunities that exist for Growth within the Harlow Enterprise Zone, Cambridge and wider region.
  7. A127 improvements – the A127 has significant capacity and reliability issues, as highlighted in the Inner Thames Estuary [ITE] Study on Surface access, and flows which need to be addressed if it is to maintain current jobs and aid the delivery of new jobs and housing growth along the corridor.  The A127 carries in excess of 70,000 vehicles per day which exceed those on many urban motorways elsewhere in the UK.[4]

More information about Stansted airport can be found in another Library Paper

A previous adjournment debate on rail services in West Anglia, by the Sir Alan Haselhurst, was held on 19 January 2011. The debate can be read here.

[1]           Essex County Council (STA0045)

[2]     Stansted Airport Consultative Committee (STA0026)

[3]     Essex County Council (STA0045)

 [4]     Essex County Council (STA0045

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