Planning for Birmingham - HS2 Airport – Opening up jobs, opportunity and closing down noise pollution for residents

Following the government’s announcement giving Heathrow R3 the go ahead, Sir Howard Davies, Chair of the Airports Commission, noted in the Telegraph, 23rd October, that Birmingham could be a better decision for a second round of airport expansion expected in the coming years, ahead of both Gatwick and Stansted – a significant statement for the region.

key_beverley_hs2.jpg

As we gear up for HS2 development, it’s important that we ensure HS2 Interchange Station is developed to ensure maximum flexibility for the airport’s future growth options, including Runway 2 (R2) alignment.

At present the Airport is considering all its options for expansion. Current projections are for Birmingham airport usage to remain around 10% of overall UK market share, projected to move from 258m passengers per annum (Oct 2016) to around 300m passengers per annum by 2030. But the pace at which they have been growing has brought forward future capacity requirements by 10 years.

If Birmingham airport continues to use Runway 1 (R1) alone total usage will be capped at around 25m passengers a year and likely inhibit airlines from operating out of Birmingham.  This, in turn, will lead to the West Midlands region suffering the disruption of HS2 without the possible upside benefits, leading to passengers using HS2 to travel to London rather than taking passengers from London to Birmingham to travel onwards to international destinations using the hub buster planes currently accounting for 70% of order books and able to take passengers longer distances, point to point, on long haul flights and potentially opening up this market to low cost carriers.

Birmingham Airport  is projected to grow over the coming decade from moving 10m to 30m passengers per annum on R1, trebling noise emissions for residents in Solihull . At present there are about 100k movements per year with the airport able to fly 5k of these overnight. As the airport moves towards 20m passengers per year this will double night flight noise for residents to 10k movements per year.

By restricting Birmingham Airport to R1 the impact is to double noise pollution for residents as the caps on night flight noise are –

1)      On the basis of daily movements – at 5% of total

2)      A noise quota on basis of aircraft flying graded 0-4 in terms of noise output, but aircraft today are effectively in category 0, so this cap is effectively unlimited.

By building Runway 2 at Birmingham the Airport will be able to take over 32,000 homes out of night flights completely, effectively preventing all flights from 2300 hours until 0700 the following morning. The proposed location of R2 can be manoeuvred to ensure least noise and overflight for residents. The airport is working to change flight paths to reduce the number of people overflown. Ground based navigation is being changed to in-flight satellite navigation enabling aircraft to fly more accurately on landing to minimise any disruption to residents.

In light of this the mechanics for any future R2 planning application should be considered, as they would in the first instance go before North Warwickshire Borough Council, with a referral on to the Secretary of State, Department for Transport seen as highly likely.  In other words any decision on R2 is, in all probability, likely to be subjected to some fairly lengthy planning procedures.   

How much would a second runway at Birmingham Airport cost?  Estimates suggest it could well be in region of £320m for 3,200m2 – standard runway length - although Dublin is building their value runway at present for as little as Euros 150m it is rumoured.  In addition, current proposals for Birmingham R2 to be located North of the HS2 Interchange station would require the removal of the former Packington Landfill Site, adding as much as a further £1bn and involving the removal and remediation of 350m3 of waste.

On this basis £2bn investment by Birmingham Airport’s shareholders could deliver a second runway enabling them to move from the current 10m passengers per annum to up to 60m+ passengers per annum. This is in contrast to Heathrow R3 requiring £19bn investment – up to £10bn of public funding to enable access required, which doesn’t look like value for money at this time of continuing cuts and austerity, let alone worrying about the need to purchase up to 4,500 homes via CPO and relocating their occupants.

Birmingham airport is often stated as operating at just 40% capacity and therefore requiring no further runway capacity, but this hides some of the nuances lying behind these headline numbers.  At peak times, even now, the airport is operating at 85% capacity, having become so busy that airlines have to book a landing slot.  These pressures continue to grow in light of Birmingham Airport’s comparatively small site, just 693 acres airside, accommodating 45 aircraft stands, compared to Gatwick at 1109 acres airside accommodating 143 stands.

Arden Cross, the exciting development due to surround the HS2 Interchange station, is projected to  provide up to 20k new jobs, with the majority of these targeting professional and young graduate entrants. In contrast and especially in light of pockets of economic deprivation and unemployment near to Birmingham Airport, development on the airport could provide opportunities for unskilled and low skilled personnel, including in baggage handling, security, catering, cleaning.

Opening up Birmingham Airport to international expansion as a point-to-point hub in light of growing hub buster planes could in turn provide opportunities for NEC site expansion into more internationally focussed sectors – film and television opportunities, perhaps enabling the return to Birmingham of the Motor Show, whilst also showcasing the region’s prowess in renewable, low carbon, autonomous and other technologies. What better place to open young people’s eyes to possible life opportunities than working in an airport connected with international exhibition facilities?

There are real life examples too. Birmingham Airport’s Head of Sustainability, Kirstin Kane, (pictured), now in her early 30’s, is today in a senior management role with responsibilities for corporate-wide H&S and CSR. Having left school aged 16 she started out in one of their most junior roles as a Clerical Trainee.  However, whilst working at the airport she’s been able to gain a BTEC in Business and Finance from Hall Green Secondary School, a degree in Business Management, with 2.1 honours, later taking a course in acoustics, having commenced work in their environmental department, all paid for by her employer. It would be great to open up these kind of horizons to many many more young people rather than closing them down now.