Airport infrastructure in ‘pre-post pandemic’ period: Leeds-Bradford aims thwarted by delays
At different speeds, airport infrastructure plans are regaining traction. This three-part report looks at examples which epitomise the wide variance in attitudes in this ‘pre-post pandemic’ period.
In Singapore, where it once appeared that Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 scheme could be halted as quickly and decisively as a Russian tank, the Transport Minister has confirmed the government’s latter-day commitment to it without actually providing a commitment.
In Berlin Terminal 2 – which was tacked onto the 1990's Berlin Brandenburg Airport Master Plan almost as an afterthought because the initial plan was so far out of date on account of construction delays that began at the start of a previous decade – will finally open in late Mar-2022. However, that opening prompts as many questions as it does answers.
In the UK, a scheme to replace an ageing terminal at Leeds Bradford Airport with an ecologically friendly and ‘no growth’ alternative has been scuppered by a supposedly ecologically friendly government which demanded a public enquiry. The airport, unsurprisingly, has thrown in the towel.
- Secondary level airports have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic more than primary ones.
- The UK’s Leeds-Bradford Airport abandons its attempt to build a ‘no-growth’ environmentally friendly replacement terminal.
- Leeds Bradford has long held aspirations to have a rail link, a GBP25 million work in progress, approved but still potentially subject to indecision from the government.
- What exactly is the government’s strategy behind demanding a public enquiry?
UK’s Leeds-Bradford Airport thwarted in its aims by government delays to terminal planning permission
Secondary level airports have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic more than primary ones as the VFR and leisure traffic that supports many LCC routes, in particular, dried up. A good example is Leeds-Bradford Airport (LBA) in the North of England..
Supporting an immediate conurbation population of around 2.4 million, the airport services what is one of the UK’s premier cities in the provision of financial services (Leeds). It ought to be much bigger but is overwhelmed by nearby (55 miles/88km) Manchester Airport.
Nevertheless, it has attracted some full service airlines such as British Airways and KLM, both current, and in the past, SAS, and it handled just shy of four million passengers in 2019.
Leeds Bradford Airport: system seats, all airlines/business models, week commencing 14-Mar-2022
Leeds-Bradford has long held aspirations to have a rail link and a new terminal
The rail link is a GBP25 million work in progress, approved but still potentially subject to indecision in the British government over the provision of new rail infrastructure in the North of England.
The latter, a three-floor 34,000sqm building, has been planned for several years and did not represent any intention by the management to grow the airport; rather, merely to replace what are out of date facilities with something that was lean and green, with a focus on public transport – such as a new bus terminal located as close as possible to the terminal entrance and closer to the proposed ‘Parkway’ rail station.
The plans fell within what was existing planning permission for seven million passengers and were aimed at having a modern, efficient, ‘BREEAM excellent rated’ building that attracts airlines.
However, on 10-Mar-2022 the airport announced the withdrawal of its planning application following "excessive delays and the decision to call in plans by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities*".
(*The ‘Levelling Up’ in the title of the ministry is a direct reference to government commitments made before the Dec-2020 general election to close the economic gap between London and the Southeast of England and the rest of the country, especially the North of England. Those commitments led to the renaming of the department).
The airport stated that with a large investment in the scheme already it is "not prepared to commit a further uncapped sum over an indefinite timeframe into a public inquiry process". A planning application for the proposed terminal was approved by Leeds City Council in Feb-2021 – before the British government announced a public inquiry into the project in Jan-2022.
The airport will instead turn its attention to developing an extension to the existing terminal, originally approved by Leeds City Council in 2019, to enable it “to meet the rapidly increasing passenger demand as the aviation sector recovers from the pandemic”. Further details of the extension scheme will be released in the coming months.
LBA says it remains committed to delivering its 2030 Carbon Net Zero Roadmap and to creating a modern, decarbonised regional UK airport within the extension scheme.
Government inertia is not what the industry needs
The irony of this situation is that LBA is an airport which, unsure exactly of how a ‘post-pandemic’ scenario is going to play out, was prepared to commit GBP150 million towards a new terminal that, principally, was not intended to sponsor any further growth – the management has no intention of going beyond a seven million ppa cap.
Rather, it was to provide a superior passenger facility while catering to environmental demands, even without them having overtly been made.
It is not clear exactly what the government’s perceived objections were that it felt necessitated a public enquiry, but it has succeeded in nipping in the bud precisely the sort of initiative that the industry will need in the coming years.
Airport infrastructure in ‘pre-post pandemic’ period
READ PART ONE OF THIS SERIES: Airport infrastructure in ‘pre-post pandemic’ period: Singapore Changi commits to Terminal 5
READ PART TWO OF THIS SERIES: Airport infrastructure in ‘pre-post pandemic’ period: Berlin Brandenburg T2 debut prompts questions