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Stansted Airport chief calls for support to secure improved train services

Ken O'Toole at the annual Stansted Area Transport Forum (7550827)
Ken O'Toole at the annual Stansted Area Transport Forum (7550827)

Stansted bosses have confirmed the airport’s position as a public transport hub for Bishop’s Stortford and beyond – and a driver for the regional economy.

As well as securing long-haul routes to the Far East and Silicon Valley, the aviation hub’s management has reiterated its commitment to improving rail and road links for the benefit of business and the wider community.

Chief executive Ken O’Toole told the annual Stansted Area Transport Forum last Thursday (Feb 28) that faster train times to the capital was his priority – and he called on businesses, community leaders and regional organisations to help him pile on the pressure for Government action. The target is London Liverpool Street in 30 minutes.

He urged attendees to use the ongoing Aviation Strategy consultation process as an opportunity to press the message in Westminister.

“Airport development and surface access into airports should not be considered independently from each other; they should be considered together as part of an integrated transport strategy," said Mr O'Toole.

"Where surface access to airports is suitably well developed, economic activity that would otherwise not occur is generated; through tourism, international trade, productivity improvements and attracting of foreign investment.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that often it only has to be incremental improvements to airport access that can make a significant difference. The Airport Operators Association estimates that a 5% improvement in average journey times to and from UK airports could deliver a 2.7% increase in passenger numbers, generating an additional £1.9 billion for the UK economy and supporting an additional 32,000 jobs.

“As an airport, our mission is twofold: to meet the needs of those using the airport but also to ensure that the local community can travel, to trade, to find employment, to develop their careers and allow the region to continue to prosper.

“Whilst there is much to cheer in terms of surface access into Stansted, a perennial area of focus for us since we acquired the airport in 2013 has been decreasing journey times between London and the airport – a move which will have significant benefits for passengers, our workforce and commuters.

“Our view that journey times need to come down has been endorsed by both the Airports Commission and West Anglia Task Force, but unfortunately these requests have fallen on deaf ears within central Government and Network Rail, despite the number of passengers and commuters using the Stansted Express growing by 143% since 2013.

“Of course, journey time improvements require infrastructure investment. Whilst we are prepared to proportionately contribute to the costs involved in seeing journey times lowered, any significant improvement will require considerable investment.”

Mr O'Toole said that the advent of digital signalling could be the answer rather than the four-tracking of lines into the capital which has previously been thought to be the key.

During a question and answer session, he emphasised the prize that was at stake. He worked at Manchester Airport when it was transformed from a holiday flight hub to the gateway to the Northern Powerhouse.

“Where Stansted sits on the scale of opportunity is much better and it’s critical that we unlock these opportunities. We are putting a lot of work and investment into that. Transport to and from the airport is critical to that.

“There’s a huge desire and enthusiasm to make this airport as successful as it can be.”

John Twigg, Manchester Airports Group’s planning director, told more than 150 delegates at the transport forum that the airport would be investing in improvements to junction 8 on the M11, the new A120 Little Hadham bypass and the local roads network, backing better bus services with a car parking levy, promoting more flexible train timetables and maintaining its 50% public transport record for passengers.

It also aims to reduce 'kiss and fly' drop-offs at the airport from more than 30% to 12% by the time it has 43 million passengers a year and cut the number of staff driving alone to the airport to 55%.

But he stressed Stansted could not succeed single-handedly: “We are absolutely dependent on our partners… and a shared common agenda that we all need to get behind.”

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