The Right Infrastructure

 

We have recently seen news that the three remaining bidders for Gatwick Airport all include a second runway as part of their business plans.  This is an understandable aspiration to support certain business models emphasising passenger growth.  That said, there are other models that prioritise operational excellence, the passenger experience and in doing so might produce a greater return for each airline seat sold.  These are other routes to the essential profitability and viability of the airport operation.

Whoever the successful bidder is, they should expect a constructive and supportive local authority environment and I am sure that will be the case with Crawley Borough Council and the other local authorities within the Gatwick Diamond economic sub-region.  Current Crawley Council policy is to support the expansion of Gatwick Airport on a single runway, two terminal basis.  This approach should enable growth to 45 million passengers per year.  In practice, the airport passenger growth curve has been interrupted on a number of occasions by major world events such as war and recession.

Expansion on a single runway is supported to encourage sustainable growth with least impact on the environment.  The policy recognises the great importance of the airport while allowing for a broadening of the economy to improve its resilience to the kind of recession that we are now experiencing.  A single runway approach also allows for more investment in a best-in-class airport direction as compared to an agenda that is more volume-based.

In considering a volume-based expansion, there are questions to be asked about this aspect of our transport infrastructure.  Is it the right kind of infrastructure investment to warrant the highest priority for the scarce billions in the economy?  In a business context, we spend a lot of time and money transporting people to transport information.  Yet technology increasingly allows us to transport the information without the people being in situ.  This is not to say that personal contact in business is obsolete or unnecessary but it can be reduced.

There are some potential inhibitors to using technology to reduce transport movements.  One of these is our personal will to behave differently which we can only solve by setting our own good example.  Another is the quality and coverage of very high speed communication channels.  An extension of the argument is to suggest that we could de-emphasise investment in some forms of hard infrastructure such as new runways and raise our spending in the soft infrastructure that supports the latest technology.

This approach can reduce the need for hard infrastructure expansion or at least slow its growth.  Altogether it is more creative and sustainable than the recurring vision that we should “bung on another runway”.

 

Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council

29th April 2009