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Transport secretary reveals details of airport review

Deborah McGurran
Political editor, East of England

image copyrightPA
image captionJustine Greening has revealed details of the plans for the forthcoming aviation discussion paper

The transport secretary has told us it's time to have a proper "fact based debate" about the future of airport capacity in Britain and in particular, the South East.

"There aren't any easy answers," says Justine Greening.

"It's a very complex question but we need to get on with a process which helps resolve these issues."

Later this month she will launch a discussion paper which will try to tackle this political hot potato once and for all.

Future demand

During a visit to Southend Airport to open its new terminal she gave us an insight into her thinking.

"We've got to make sure there is the level of capacity at our airports that we need, not just in the next 10 to 15 years but the next 20 to 30 years."

"We are getting to the stage where there is a question mark over whether we've got the capacity to meet the country's needs."

"In the short term we've always been clear that we need to make the most of the capacity we do have.

"We need to use what we've got better and more effectively and we're looking at how we do that, but we also need to look ahead."

And it's that concern that has prompted the consultation.

Ms Greening does not want to prejudice proceedings but says the debate must be based on "real facts and figures and details around logistics, operations and airspace - then we'll have some of the information we need to make the right decision".

She will not be drawn on whether the ultimate conclusion of this consultation will be a call for more runways or a new airport but she does rule out a third runway at Heathrow which is "not the right answer".

Proposals to build a new airport in the Thames are met with a more sanguine response.

"This is the time for people to bring forward proposals on this issue," she says.

Coping with capacity

The aviation industry has been pushing for some time for the government to tackle this issue.

"There is a capacity issue in the South East - it's probably a bit late but now is the time to do it," says Carolyn McCall, chief executive of Easyjet.

image copyrightbbc
image captionThe capacity issue in the South East is to be addressed by the review

"There is a real opportunity to have an aviation policy which is long term and which addresses the need for a hub airport but also looks at needs elsewhere."

The transport secretary was opening the new £100 million terminal at Southend Airport.

Next month Easyjet will launch services to nine European destinations, and other airlines are expected to move in as well.

"This is a real vote of confidence in Southend," said Ms Greening, who pointed out that this bit of airport expansion has created 500 extra jobs.

It's also the first piece of airport expansion in the South East for more than 20 years.

Southend hopes to handle two million passengers a year.

That will help ease capacity in the South East but it won't solve the problem.

That's for Ms Greening to work out.