Regional airports on the country’s radar

Half of the 200 million air travellers who fly in and out of the UK each year, regularly face chaos, congestion and sheer misery getting to, and through, London?s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The other half, meanwhile, have discovered the joys of relatively hassle-free passage through one of the 69 other terminals which make up Britain?s regional airport network. With strong Government backing, as outlined in the aviation White Paper of 2003, The Future of Air Transport, many of these airports are set to grow at a phenomenal rate in the coming decades, with major implications?some positive, some negative? for those living within their catchment areas.

Stansted, Britain?s third largest airport and the hub of Europe?s low-cost flying revolution, currently handles some 20 million passengers a year. By expanding the use of its existing runway to its permitted limit, that figure could soon rise to 35 million. But if, as seems likely, the proposed second runway (the first to be built in the South-East for 30 years) is opened within the next decade, then passenger numbers could rise to 80 million a year, confirming Stansted as a driving force for new development along the M11/A14/ A1 corridor between London and Peterborough.

There is, of course, a price to pay, over and above the £2 billion initial cost of the expansion scheme. According to local estate agent Tony Mullucks, the construction of the second runway will involve the compulsory purchase of 107 houses?including Grade I-listed Warish Hall at nearby Takeley?by the airport?s owners, BAA, with a further 600?700 local home-owners guaranteed compensation for any losses incurred should they need, or wish, to sell in the meantime. Beyond that, ?the adverse effect on property values in the area is likely to be minimal,? Mr Mullucks says, adding that ?already canny home-buyers have identified ?quiet spots? within a few miles of the runway, where it is often possible to pick up a bargain?.

As the launch-pad for no-frills airline easyJet, London?s Luton airport has been a major player in Europe?s low-cost air-travel revolution. The country?s dreariest airport gets a much-needed boost this year with the unveiling of a new multi-million-pound terminal development, but, according to Tim Pearse of Lane Fox?s Harpenden office, the proposed extension of the airport?s runway is already causing rumblings of discontent in nearby villages such as Breachwood Green, St Paul?s Walden, King?s Walden and Caddington, with ?No to Luton Expansion? signs posted in many windows. Should the plan proceed, Mr Pearse expects to see house-prices falling in these areas, with properties becoming more difficult to sell.

In the long term, local residents may take heart from the fact that Luton has become a partner in Cambridge-MIT Institute?s Silent Aircraft Initiative which aims to dramatically reduce aircraft noise to the point where it becomes virtually undetectable by anyone living beyond the airport perimeter.

As the current base for no fewer than seven European budget airlines, Birmingham International Airport claims to be ?the low-cost capital of the Midlands?. Later this year, the airport?s management will unveil a £150m expansion programme in line with Government plans to make Birmingham the focus for airport expansion in the Midlands. Residents of areas likely to be affected by the implementation of such a plan are already nervous about the future, and villages such as Catherine de Barnes Heath and Hampton in Arden are now ?less popular than before,? says James Leslie of Savills in Solihull.

There has been an airport at Coventry for nearly 70 years, although in recent years it has been mainly involved with the transport of freight. This situation changed when low-cost airline Thomson fly chose the airport as the base for its Midlands operation. In February 2004, European travel group TUI acquired the operating rights, and passenger services began on March 31, 2004. Plans for a £15m redevelopment scheme have now been submitted to Warwick District Council, but may wait some time for approval, having provoked fierce opposition from people living in nearby Rugby, James Leslie says.

Tourism chiefs in Nottingham, whose East Midlands Airport celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, are said to be ?underwhelmed? by rival Peel Airports? decision to re-launch the former RAF airfield at Finningley, near Doncaster, as a commercial airport under the name of Robin Hood Doncaster-Sheffield airport. Redeveloped at a cost of £80m, the new airport is expected to handle up to two million passengers a year, with flights scheduled to start later this year. At 3,000m, its runway will be the second-longest in the north of England, allowing it to serve popular destinations not only in Europe, but also the USA, the Caribbean, and the Far East.

Peel believes in building on a name, and two years ago re-launched its airport at Liverpool, one of Britain?s oldest, as Liverpool John Lennon Airport, and since then the arrival on the scene of EasyJet and Ryanair has sent passenger numbers at the Merseyside terminal soaring: from 3.4 million in 2004, to an estimated 4.5 million this year. Liverpool Airport is especially popular with busy people in the North-West who value their time, says Jonathan Major of Strutt & Parker?s Chester office.

Mr Major applauds the airport?s user-friendly layout which allows passengers to roll up, park their cars ?outside the front door? and jump straight onto a flight to London City Airport with VLM; to Aberdeen Cardiff and Plymouth with Air Wales; or Berlin, Cologne and Basle with easyJet.

In September 2004, Peel Airports changed the name of Teesside International Airport, Middlesbrough, to Durham Tees Valley Airport and will shortly be submitting a planning application for a major expansion of the terminal building in the now-familiar Peel Airports style. Passenger numbers are expected to grow from less than one million this year to two million within five years.

North of the Border, more than 18 million passengers used BAA?s Scottish terminals at Glasgow (8.1 million), Edinburgh (7.6 million) and Aberdeen (2.5 million) in 2004. With new low-cost and long-haul destinations being announced by the week, BAA plans to invest some £500m in Scottish aviation in the next 10 years. The Government?s 30-year airport strategy will see land protected at Aberdeen for a runway extension, and at Edinburgh and Glasgow for possible new runways in the longer term.

Elsewhere in Scotland, air transport is recognised as the only mode of travel capable of delivering quick, easy access to the remote Highlands and Islands, and the wild north coast of Scotland. The government-backed Highlands & Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) runs 10 of Britain?s most picturesque airports? at Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick. In the year ending March 2004, 934,000 passengers passed through these airports: numbers ranged from 5,600 at Tiree, to 484,000 at Inverness. Low-cost operators such as easyJet, bmi, Eastern Airways and Snowflake?the low-fares wing of SAS?all fly out of Inverness, highlighting the perception of the airport as a site for future expansion by Europe?s fast-expanding fleet of budget carriers.

Down on Britain?s southern seaboard, passenger numbers at BAA?s Southampton Airport jumped by 73% in 2004?from 794,000 a year at the start of the year, to 1.4 million by year-end. The increased activity is largely attributed to the arrival, in March 2003, of the low-fares airline Flybe which has taken advantage of the airport?s prosperous, 10-million-strong catchment area to offer regular cheap flights to Mediterranean hotspots, popular European ski resorts, and second-home destinations in France and Spain.

However, plans by BAA to develop Southampton into ?the leading fast-track airport for central-southern England? have sent shivers down the spines of home-owners living underneath the flight-path, which tends to follow the River Itchen and the M3 south of Winchester, says Andrew Rome of Knight Frank. Conversely, ?many locals see easy access to a budget airline, which eliminates the need to travel via Gatwick or Heathrow, as a very real advantage,? adds Mr Rome, who happily admits to choosing his own family holidays these days with this

facility in mind.

A few miles down the road, Bournemouth airport is gearing itself up for its busiest summer ever, thanks to a brand-new schedule of European flights from low-cost operators Thomsonfly and Jet2, which includes such popular destinations as Mallorca, Pisa, Amsterdam and Paris. With major improvements to the main terminal building already under way, last year?s passenger tally of 495,000 is expected to double in 2005.

According to Clare Gage of Savills in nearby Canford Cliffs: ?the beauty of Bournemouth is that few people live within the immediate vicinity of the airport, so the current expansion is likely to cause minimum disruption to home-owners. On the contrary, many prospective purchasers are beginning to specify a location within 20 minutes? drive of Bournemouth airport as a key element of their property requirements?.

The 2003 White Paper sees Bristol International Airport remaining the South-West?s largest airport, growing from the 4.5 million people who flew from the airport in 2004 to between 10 and 12 million passengers by 2030. The airport stands seven miles south of the city, on 176 hectares of land off the A38. In September this year, the airport?s management will submit its final master plan for the airport?s future development following consultation with local communities on issues such as noise, the effect on surrounding roads, night flying and any erosion of green belt areas.

Much of the growth will be driven by low-cost airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair and Flybe. The current thinking is that Bristol can cater for up to nine million passengers a year with no runway extension, no second terminal and no changes to arrivals and departure routes; beyond that the future looks more uncertain.

James Toogood of Knight Frank?s Bristol office sums up public reaction to Bristol?s development to date: ?Since the expansion of the airport, a few local villages have been affected by the increasing number of planes coming in and out, and certainly prospective purchasers are put off by the flight-path.

However, there is generally a lot of excitement about the airport, especially following the recent launch of a Bristol?New York flight and the continuation of cheap flights to Europe. Locally, there is more concern about road traffic and the development of the general surrounding infrastructure. On the other hand, Knight Frank has recently seen a number of new applicants registering with us for properties within 30 minutes of the airport, due to ease of access to business flights at Bristol International?.

Exeter was one of the first municipal airports to be created in provincial cities round Britain in the 1930s?partly in anticipation of the development of airline traffic, partly in anticipation of a future war in Europe?and one of the last to be sold off. In 2004, passenger numbers broke through the magic half-million barrier, mainly due to the expansion of scheduled services by Flybe?within the UK, to Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and to sunspots such as Alicante, Faro and Malaga.

Will Morrison of Knight Frank in Exeter believes that the expansion of the airport will be of huge benefit locally, with the property market in areas such as east Devon already seeing an influx of purchasers who specify the need for good international communications. Further-more, the airport?s flight-path has been directed over the business parks to the east of the city, and only affects ?a few small villages and the eastern suburbs,? Mr Morrison adds.

I doubt if many airports in Britain have been accused of ?hiding their light under a bushel?, but that is the charge levelled by Simon Backhouse of Strutt & Parker?s Canterbury office against the UK?s newest airport, Kent International at Manston, Kent. Since last September, a new deal with the low-fares airline EUjet provides regular daily services to business destinations such as Amsterdam, Dublin and Edinburgh, as well as weekend routes to European cities such as Copenhagen, Prague, Nice, Murcia and Palma.

According to Simon Backhouse: ?Manston is the perfect airport, where planes come in over the sea and fly out over farmland. Low fares are matched by low-cost car parking (currently £5 per day), a dual carriageway leads all the way to the airport perimeter, and passengers can walk from their cars to the departure gate in a matter of minutes?. Passenger numbers at Manston are expected to rise swiftly to around two million a year, as Kent?s best-kept aviation secret gets out.

Once again, the local property market will reflect the effect of airport expansion, although, in the case of Manston, perhaps not always to the advantage of local estate agents. Mr Backhouse cites the example of a client, an international businessman, who finally got fed up with the problems of getting to Gatwick or Heathrow, and decided to move house. But having discovered that he could fly from Manston to Manchester and pick up a transatlantic flight from there, he changed his mind and decided to stay put.

For the full article, see Country Life, March 31, 2005