Airport Cities – the centre of UK economic development?

A fantastic turn out for one of the first airport city focused property events in the calendar this year. Over 300 delegates congregated to share ideas and discuss hot topics in the UK’s airport cities as well as existing and future developments.

Lorcan Tyrell, Development Director for Dublin Airport Central, introduced the day with some thought-provoking statements to set the scene for upcoming discussions. There is a significant amount of investment ongoing into UK airports (and linked business) at present and planned – the main challenges to overcome are generally political as well as operational. The day saw debates and discussions surrounding these challenges, how they differ from business to business, and how, as an industry, we can overcome these challenges. How do we put the solutions in place?

It was intriguing to hear about MAG’s master plan from Jonathan Haigh’s perspective, MAG Property MD, who explained the emphasis of cargo, logistics, distributions hubs and other big box developments was necessary for commercial growth, as well as the broad enhancement of the volume of hotels and office spaces throughout the Airport City. He explained that MAG sold some land to allow for reinvestment into the business and ongoing projects with a focus on infrastructure. Jonathan went into detail about the current 300,000 sq. ft office development which will grow into 1m sq. ft in the coming years, as well as the demand for hotel developments in the existing market being high and rationalising their big plans for more hospitality. It was assuring to hear that even in the current climate where Brexit is almost blasphemy and businesses are low on confidence, MAG is emitting more confidence than ever in their master plans; delivery and inevitable success. The Airport City created by MAG, whilst still undergoing developments, hosts 20,000 employees and is already viewed as a City today – watch this space!

Lorcan then went on to discuss Dublin Airport’s plans for redevelopment; 350 acres of land was to be targeted back in 2007 but only 2 months into the project in 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed and so did the remainder of the property market. Dublin maintained confidence and kept powering on with the long term, forward-thinking plans. Due to politics, projects were placed on hold some years later and Lorcan stepped in to oversee the wider operation of the airport and drive success from a different angle. Lorcan rekindled the project in 2014 from the grassroots up, rather than strategy down – a formula that worked and has been pivotal to success. Dublin Airport’s investment and development creates jobs for thousands in the local community, provides valuable amenities, and really enhances the local and national economy. The numbers speak for themselves and Dublin has already reached capacity at 32m passengers annually however, with the new runway launching in 2022, the constraints will be no more! The ambitious plans estimate a whopping 60m passengers by 2039 and so the biggest challenge the airport will face is getting these passengers to the airport in the first place – connectivity is key.

Liz Goldsby from Transport for Greater Manchester tackled one of the big operational challenges airports are faced with when developing; connectivity. Her view was very collaborative and not biased towards the region she represents. She explained that HS2 and greater cross-country connectivity go hand in hand and it absolutely isn’t a case of one or the other. There are clearly a lot of politics involved when it comes to funding for infrastructure changes throughout the UK and Liz is at the centre of these conversations – it was intriguing to hear about her views and plans.

Other speakers throughout the day tackled similar subjects, many (if not all) with the same challenges; politics, capacity and connectivity.

Charles Johnson, Director of Development at Leeds Bradford Airport, gave some inspiring statistics surrounding the West Yorkshire hub’s ongoing developments; 120 acres of land to be redeveloped creating 1m sq. ft of office space, 3,100 more jobs and £3.1bn GVA – wow! He explained how the project plugs the gap in the local landscape in Leeds – once complete, it will be the largest employment site in the entire region. Charles has been working closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to justify and secure expenditure on the enhancement of connectivity, specifically train links.

Interestingly, when Councillor Iain Malcolm stepped forward to discuss Newcastle Airport’s past, present and future, the crowd were surprised and impressed by the numbers again. Iain explained that, as a 51% shareholder in Newcastle Airport, the Council has a higher GVA than when it was a 100% shareholder. Entering a JV with private investors have genuinely facilitated the significant success Newcastle has experience in recent years. There are plans for another runway at Newcastle by 2035 but, in the meantime, if they can hit 9.4m passengers without it, there may well be changes to that investment. There is a new airport business park which is being developed just outside of the airport, ensuring land around the primary airport function is there for growth – land assembly is the biggest challenge in commercial and economic development, specifically for Newcastle, and so utmost LEP collaboration is necessary.

Doncaster Sheffield Airport and Peel Group’s representative, Liz Askham, impressed all with a very engaging and inspiring presentation and video with insights from John Whitaker, the business’ owner and strategic leader, on the large-scale developments underway. The airport upholds the crown for the second year in a row for “Best UK Airport 2018” and it’s only going to get better. The master plan involves 5.5m sq. ft of employment space with cargo growth being high on the agenda. They are spearheading projects into terminal enhancement (reconfiguration and expansion), an airside development of 1.5m sq. ft as well as 4m sq. ft of commercial including logistics and advanced manufacturing hubs. They will also be building 3,000 new homes and more retail, leisure and hotels across the airport city to create a plaza. Once complete, GVA will reach £3.7bn. As per the common theme, connectivity is key to success and Peel have secured a new train station and links within their master plan which increases the catchment by a further 9m potential passengers within 90 mins travel time.

So, what is an Airport City?

There were many views discussed throughout the day, but the key components to what makes a SUCCESSFUL airport city are:

  • An all-encompassing offering; retail, hotels, logistics, fire services, medical care, terminal buildings, airfield, schools, infrastructure, ground transportation, office, cargo and car parks, amongst many others
  • Connectivity – working with local transport authorities to invest in better infrastructure and links to the cities (from other cities!)
  • A sense of Community
  • Confidence to invest and develop
  • Ambition
  • Most importantly, the best talent spearheading the leadership, management, strategy and development of these impressive estates (that’s where we come in..!)

So, if you are looking to recruit someone who could really make a difference to your business; whether it is within the development team or in the wider airport or city management, please get in touch with me on 07789 536 152 – we’d relish the opportunity to add value to more airports in the UK and Europe through the exceptional provision of talent!

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