Everything you need to know about Northern Gatwick Runway airport expansion proposals

As a consultation into Gatwick Airport’s proposals to bring its Northern Runway into routine use starts we’ve had a detailed look at the documents published this week.

While Covid-19 has had a massive effect on the airline industry, Gatwick says forecasts predict it will take around four of five years for passenger traffic to return to the levels seen in 2019, while by the end of the 2020s these numbers will have returned broadly to where they were had the pandemic not occurred.

It is therefore proposing to bring the Northern Runway into routine use for departing aircraft alongside its Main Runway.

A 12-week public consultation on the scheme started yesterday (Thursday September 9).

A flight at Gatwick Airport Pic S Robards

As well as replying to the consultation you can send us your letters for publication.

Airport growth

Pre-pandemic, the number of passengers passing through Gatwick every year reached 46million in 2019.

The rapid increase up to 2019 had been driven by more passengers per flight, a higher level of growth in traditionally quieter periods of the year and a rise in peak runway capacity.

Even without the Northern Runway project, the airport estimates this could rise to 62.4m in 2038 and 67.2m by 2047.

But if the project were to go ahead, these levels could reach 75.6m and 80.2m respectively.

Compared to Luton and Stansted, Gatwick says it is by far the most ‘oversubscribed’ airport for applications by airlines for take off and landing slots.

And whilst demand in the short-haul market is well distributed between London’s airports, its owners believe only Gatwick provides any substantial alternative to Heathrow for the long-haul market segment.

It is therefore seen as uniquely positioned accommodating significant numbers of full-service, low-cost, chartered and regional airlines.

Gatwick says its proximity to London and transport links to the wider South East and beyond gives it a substantial catchment area.

According to the consultation document: “While the immediate outlook therefore remains challenging, there is confidence across the aviation industry that passenger and airline demand at Gatwick will return to previous levels over the course of the next few years and then continue to grow thereafter.

“Overall, updated forecasts predict that it will take approximately four to five years for passenger traffic at Gatwick to return to levels seen in 2019 and that by the end of the 2020s, passenger levels at Gatwick will have returned broadly to where they would have been had the pandemic not occurred.”

The airport argues the Northern Runway would reduce the intensity of main runway operations, maintain continuity of operations even if one runway is out of use, improve capacity at the busiest times by removing smaller aircraft departures from the main runway, reduce taxi times and airborne holding times and reduce the risk of delay and time overruns.

It adds: “The availability of the Northern Runway would also enable the release of additional slots to meet pent up demand. This would drive connectivity, offer passengers a wider choice of destinations and create competition with consequential benefits to air fares.”

Highlighting the economic benefits of the proposal, it is estimated the project could generate 18,400 additional regional jobs by 2038. This would be broken down to 3,200 direct jobs, 6,300 indirect jobs in the supply chain and 10,800 jobs within businesses that expand or locate in the region because of connectivity and opportunities offered by Gatwick.

The estimated net present value of the project over the 60-year appraisal period would be within the range of £10.5bn to £22bn - comparable to Crossrail 2.

On the basis of the preliminary construction plans, there would be a peak in construction workforce at around 1,300 workers in 2026.

Northern Runway plans

Currently used predominantly as a taxiway, the Northern Runway is only used as an operational runway when the main runway is unavailable, for example during periods of maintenance.

The proposed works would include building a 12metre wide strip along the northern side of the northern runway to enable the repositioning of the centerlines 12m to the north to ensure an adequate separation between the northern and main runway.

The redundant 12m strip to the south would be removed. New markings would need to be made alongside the reconfiguarion of some taxiways.

Arriving aircraft would continue to use the current approach to the main runway but would need to cross the northern runway (or its protected areas) after landing to reach the airport’s terminals.

According to the consultation: “Departing aircraft would be cleared for take-off only after an arrival has touched down on the main runway or whilst an arrival is at least two nautical miles from the runway.”

A new pier would be built alongside changes to both the North and South Terminals.

Both would see extensions to their international departure lounges and new transition spaces to allow passengers to connect to a new autonomous vehicle facility providing connections to the new pier as well as internal reconfiguration works.

The North Terminal’s bagging sorting hall facility would be extended.

The forecourts and approaches to both terminals would also be enhanced.

A further aircraft maintenance hanger would be required as would three new hotels totalling 1,000 bedrooms and around 18,500 extra passenger car parking spaces.

Revisions would have to be made to the existing surface water drainage strategy with new areas of the airport being developed.

Some of the existing power substations would have be relocated and new ones provided, and a new pumping station would be constructed.

Mitigation measures

Gatwick’s railway station is already in the process of being upgraded by Network Rail, with the airport part-funding the improvements.

Improvements to the North and South Terminal roundabouts have already been consented and would go ahead without the Northern Runway project.

As part of the Northern Runway project it promises to work with coach and bus operates to provide ‘an appropriate increase’ in service frequency as well as new route offers to accommodate future growth.

If the scheme goes ahead a number of extra surface access improvements are also proposed.

These are a new junction providing full grade separation at the South Terminal, a new junction layout with some grade separation at the North Terminal removing A23 westbound traffic from the roundabout, an extra running lane on the M23 Gatwick Spur eastbound and improvements to the Longbridge roundabout where the A23 meets the A217.

Areas for proposed environmental mitigation are currently being considered and these would include replacement open space, surface water drainage measures, planting and ecological habitat creation.

Noise and emissions

According to the consultation document, the project does not require new flight paths or airspace change to allow for dual runway operations.

At this stage, the noise modelling has assumed that use of the northern runway would avoid scheduling flights in the majority of the more sensitive night-time period.

The airport acknowledges that while many people benefit from having Gatwick on their doorstep aircraft, noise is an issue for some people who live nearby.

As aircraft would continue to use the existing flight paths, the main noise impact from the Northern Runway proposals are expected to be predominantly as a result of the increased frequency of flights rather than new noise impacts over previously unaffected areas.

Two proposals have been put forward to mitigate the effect of air noise on communities: a new noise insulation scheme and homeowners assisted moving scheme as well as a ‘noise envelope’ to set limits and manage noise from future operations at Gatwick.

The consultation summary adds: “We will also continue to work with partners and stakeholders to create the most noise efficient operation possible, including through the Noise Management Board, the Noise and Track Monitoring Advisory Group and its subgroup the Gatwick Noise Monitoring Group.”

Meanwhile on emissions, Gatwick says it strongly supports both the Government’s approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the implementation of net zero aviation.

It uses 100 per cent certified renewable energy to run the airport and since 2010 carbon emissions from its buildings and ground vehicles have reduced by 50 per cent and energy consumption by 12 per cent.

It added: “At this stage it is not considered that the scale of increased emissions from the project will impact upon the ability of the UK to meet its carbon targets given the range of mechanisms whereby emissions can be reduced, and offset, and assuming that sufficient progress across Government and industry to deliver the innovation, infrastructure, and supply chains to reduce emissions from aircraft.”

Proposed timeline

The airport has produced indicative timelines for both the process of seeking approval for the Northern Runway Project and if given the green light, what all the steps would be to deliver it.

From December 2021 - Consideration of consultation feedback

Spring 2022 to Autumn 2022 - Prepare the Development Consent Order

Late 2022 - Submit the DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate
2023 - Examination of the DCO - at this stage, the examining authority examines the application
2024 - Examining authority’s recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport
2024 - Decision made by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Anticipated phasing:

2023 - Surveys such as ecological surveys that may be necessary

2024 - Commencement of main construction phase

2024 - Early works, including establishment of compounds, fencing, early clearance and diversion works and re-provision of essential replacement services

2024-2029 - Reconfiguration of existing maintenance facilities (Phase 1), alterations to the existing northern runway and airfield works to support use of the realigned northern runway

2029 - Northern Runway opens

2030-2034 - Pier 7

2024-2030 - Extensions to North and South Terminals

2024-2032 - Hotel and commercial facilities

2024-2035 - Car parking

2029-2034 - Ongoing reconfiguration of existing maintenance airfield facilities (to final state) and further improvements to airfield facilities

2029-2032 - Surface access improvements including: South Terminal roundabout improvements, North Terminal roundabout improvements and works to Longbridge roundabout

2035 - Reinstatement of final land use at temporary construction compound locations

2024-2038 - Flood compensation areas

Next steps after consultation

The airport says: “Once we have considered your responses and finalised our plans, we will make a DCO application for the Northern Runway Project to the Planning Inspectorate. Prior to submitting the application, we may decide to carry out further consultation on our proposals including those areas where we have decided to materially change our proposals in response to feedback received from this consultation.

“The Planning Inspectorate will process and examine the DCO application, including encouraging the submission of views from interested parties, before making a recommendation to the Secretary of State who will make the final decision on whether or not to grant consent.”