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Stop Stansted Expansion group claims Government forecasts cast doubt on case for raising passenger cap

PUBLISHED: 15:12 06 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:55 07 November 2017

The main terminal at Stansted Airport.
Picture: Stansted Airport

The main terminal at Stansted Airport. Picture: Stansted Airport

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Campaigners opposed to an increase in the cap on passengers numbers at Stansted claim that new Government forecasts for growth in air travel undermine the case for expansion put forward by the airport’s owner.

Aircraft parking stands at Stansted Airport.
Picture: blueskyuav.co.uk Aircraft parking stands at Stansted Airport. Picture: blueskyuav.co.uk

The Stop Stansted Expansion group points to figures in the Department for Transport’s latest UK Aviation Forecasts document which include a “central forecast” of 31m for annual passengers numbers at Stansted in 2030 - within the current cap of 35m.

Stansted owner Manchester Airports Group (MAG) is seeing to have the cap lifted to 43m passengers a year, arguing that the increase is necessary so that spare runway capacity at Stansted can be used to meet growing demand for air travel in the decade or more before an additional runway can be completed at Heathrow.

But SSE says the Department for Transport (DfT) forecasts show that, if the new runway at Heathrow is completed in the next 10 years, passenger numbers at Stansted could actually decline, from around 24m in the past year to 22m in 2030, with the present 35m cap not being reached until 2043.

SSE chairman Peter Sanders said: “MAG’s overstatement of potential demand to secure support for expansion is nothing more than an opportunistic ploy. It is designed to take advantage of a lull during Government consultations on the future of aviation and to try to rush through permissions that might otherwise be restricted once the new aviation policy emerges towards the end of 2018.”

An aerial view of Stansted Airport.

Picture: blueskyuav.co.uk An aerial view of Stansted Airport. Picture: blueskyuav.co.uk

He added: “MAG has presented its case as if failure to concede a further tranche of expansion would somehow compromise the rights of the travelling public as well as the UK economy, when the Government’s own figures show this to be far from the truth.”

However, the DfT report states that the purpose of the forecasts “is primarily in informing longer term strategic policy rather than in providing detailed forecasts at each individual airport in the short term”.

It says the overall national forecast is subject to a level uncertainty, which is all the greater when applied to individual airports.

The report also says that the forecasts aim to reflect current planning restrictions and “should not be considered a cap on the development of individual airports”.

A spokesman for Stansted Airport said that its growth over the past five years had “significantly exceeded” previous projections from both the Government and the Airports Commission, effectively putting it 10 years ahead of where official forecasts said it would be.

“Unfortunately, the Government’s recently published forecasts suffer from the same fundamental flaws as their previous forecasts, in particular their failure to take account of commercial drivers that have delivered the exceptionally strong growth for Stansted Airport and its low cost carriers, such as highly competitive air fares and long term commercial agreements with airlines,” he added.

“For that reason we welcome the DfT’s acceptance that the purpose of its recently published forecasts is not to provide detailed projections for each individual airport, and the recognition that other forecasts may be more appropriate in informing local planning decisions.

“Looking to the future, our independently prepared traffic forecasts show continued strong growth at Stansted, with the airport serving 35m passengers in 2023. These forecasts provide the airport with the business case for the substantial investment in new passenger facilities that we will be making over the coming years.”

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