Aerotropolis: Futuristic vision to turn Yorkshire airport into international transport hub and create 73,000 jobs

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AN Airport in Yorkshire has unveiled an ambitious masterplan to become a major international transport hub with its own East Coast Mainline railway station and the capacity to provide air travel to more than 25 million people.

Bosses at Doncaster Sheffield Airport will today publish a masterplan document in which they lay out plans to create an “aerotropolis” for the North of England that would generate 73,000 new jobs and hand a £3.2bn economic boost to the region over the next two decades.

Big plans and a bright future for Robin Hood Airport.

Big plans and a bright future for Robin Hood Airport.

In addition to boosting passenger capacity, the airport wants to increase the volume of cargo it handles to 250,000 tonnes a year and host the construction of 8,500 new homes within its site.

Central to the expansion plan is to directly link the airport to London and Leeds with a newly-created railway station along the East Coast Mainline, a move it says will place close to nine million people, from the suburbs of the London northwards, within 90 minutes of the airport.

Airport chiefs say the new station could be operational by as soon as 2025 and would alleviate congestion around the capital by reducing the need to travel to Heathrow or Gatwick.

Seeking to take advantage of the airport’s 1,600-acre size, the masterplan lays out a vision for an aerotropolis development – tapping into the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Doncaster’s logistics hub, a global air cargo campus, residential zones and a central plaza of retail outlets, restaurants and hotels. The increase in cargo freight in particular is something the masterplan says could be of huge benefit to the country, saying it “can facilitate major freight expansion supporting international trade at a crucial time in the country’s development post-Brexit”.

The required upgrades would come with a £280m price tag, to be funded by a mixture of private and public money procured from both regional and national government.

Robert Hough, the chairman of airport owner Peel Holdings, said: “If we are seriously talking about re-balancing the economy and the Northern Powerhouse, this sort of scheme should have full support. It is understandable, it is deliverable, it is not that expensive.”

The plan has been welcomed by business leaders, MPs and transport bosses, with Nigel Brewster, the vice-chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), calling upon “residents, businesses, and politicians from all parties to get behind these ambitious yet deliverable plans for our airport, which include connecting it with the East Coast Mainline”.

He added: “Doncaster Sheffield Airport and its partners have a clear aim in mind and tangible plans in place to make it a reality. We have always seen growth of the airport as being a key priority, but no one ‘actor’ can make this growth happen.

“We must come together with Peel, Doncaster Council, and Transport for the North – and the city region must also do our own part through investment in local transport infrastructure.”

Sir Nigel Knowles, the chairman of the Sheffield LEP, said: “With a single piece of infrastructure, one of the region’s biggest employment centres would be achieved, stimulating high value business investment, new housing, tourism, regional and international and connectivity.”

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones added: “The size of the economic prize within this vision is unrivalled and will be a long-lasting contributor to the rebalancing of our economy.”

Business reaction: Expansion will ‘benefit wider economy’

The proposals to expand Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s international profile should be used as a basis for placing the region at the heart of transport policy for the North, a top business leader has claimed.

Dan Fell, the chief executive of Doncaster Chamber of Commerce, described the airport’s expansion plans as “emblematic of the opportunity and ambition that is currently prevalent in Doncaster”.

He has today called on Transport for the North to feature the town more prominently in its overall plans to create a better connected North of England.

Mr Fell told The Yorkshire Post: “The new master plan sets out a bold and ambitious growth trajectory which, of course, is extremely positive for the airport itself.

“It is pleasing to see the focus on investing in infrastructure and particularly the plans to develop a new railway station at the airport - a project that will create jobs and growth across the region. Within this context, it is therefore frustrating that Doncaster’s economic significance is not appropriately recognised within Transport for the North’s new strategy.

“We would therefore call on TfN to see the airport’s new masterplan as being emblematic of the opportunity and ambition that is currently prevalent in Doncaster and to amend its strategy accordingly to take full cognisance of the borough’s assets, connectivity and economic potential.”

Richard Wright, the executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, called the plan “a real statement about the future”.

He said: “The airport has shown year-on-year improvements in customer numbers and freight over the last few years and has been backed by regional investments like the new link road.

This shows an ambition about the future, and a long-term commitment from the Peel Group, that we should be very excited about. Our regional economy needs a successful airport and based on this we are going to have one.”

Call for new rail projects

Private companies have been invited by the Transport Secretary to propose new rail projects which will not need the Government’s funding.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said investors now have two months to work up proposals which are financially credible without government support.

A new southern rail link to Heathrow Airport will be one of the first projects of this kind, with “third parties” such as local authorities and private sector companies invited to invest in the network.

The ideas would need to make commercial sense and fulfil passengers’ needs without an over-arching need for public support.