Questioning the holes in the Vale of Glamorgan LDP

Our local Assembly member Eluned Parrott has recently questioned the so-called ‘master plan’ in the Vale of Glamorgan’s LDP.

ASSEMBLY Member for South Wales Central, Eluned Parrott, has challenged the First Minister to publish his Master Plan for Cardiff Airport, which the Vale of Glamorgan’s Local Development Plan states is being produced by the Welsh Labour Government.

The Local Development Plan (LDP) sets out how land within the Vale of Glamorgan will be used between 2011 and 2026, and allocates significant areas of land in the Rhoose area to developments that form part of a Cardiff Airport Master Plan.

When asked if and when the Airport Master Plan would be published, the First Minister replied that he would liaise with Cardiff Airport’s Board but claimed that it was their plan and not the Welsh Government’s.

Eluned Parrott said: “In the Vale of Glamorgan Local Development Plan, several pieces of land have been allocated for the development of an Airport Master Plan, but no-one seems to know what that plan is, nor who is driving it. The LDP specifically states that the Welsh Government are developing these plans, and yet the First Minister categorically denied it today.

“This is a shambles. If the Vale Council are able to set aside specific parcels of land to deliver the Master Plan, they must at least know in outline form what developments are planned.

“Local residents are now extremely concerned that they can’t effectively respond to the Draft LDP consultation if the information it is based on isn’t in the public domain.

“We need to see the Airport Master Plan before the LDP consultation closes. Local residents deserve the facts, so they’re not left responding in the dark.”

If you’d like to see the relevant sections, the LDP is available as a PDF file from the Vale Council’s website. From pages 70 and 71 of the LDP:

6.62 This site is not allocated to meet local market demand for general industrial or office uses, but rather to accommodate business and employment uses catering specifically for the needs of the aerospace industry and high tech manufacturing. There are plans to create an ‘airport city’, taking the form of a business destination for local and international businesses including quality office accommodation, specialist education, training facilities and leisure developments. […]

6.63. In order to deliver a high quality, comprehensive and sustainable development on this strategically important site, a Masterplan must be produced to include the following elements:

[…]

c. The provision of an energy centre, such as a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plant, to ensure the development has high sustainable credentials.

Now that the LDP is under consultation, residents of the Vale of Glamorgan may want to have more detail on these proposals – preferably before the deadline for responses which is on 20th December 2013.

What exactly is the airport city? What kind of energy plant are we talking about here?

Who exactly is responsible for the master plan? Is it appropriate that this consultation is taking place while we remain in the dark about the master plan, in effect while the LDP has this huge hole in it?

This part is especially unsettling for Vale residents:

d. Safeguarding of a route for a potential rail link to Cardiff Airport across the site to ensure the development does not compromise future proposals to enhance sustainable access to the airport.

As we’ve shown before, a spur would not be ‘sustainable’ – it would have a detrimental impact on Vale line services. The mass of local opinion against the spur and FOR the Vale line, as evidenced by the 481 signatories to the Stop the Spur – Protect the Vale Line petition, plus the extraordinary costs of such little-needed infrastructure, have been reason enough for the planners to drop the spur entirely from all plans and concentrate on improvements to road networks, and to the bus service to the Airport.

The Airport Express bus service is so much more cost effective and immediate than building a costly railway line – even though initial teething problems including levels of use have needed to be addressed.

Now all it takes is for the airport to get cracking and partner with airlines in order to produce the customer numbers needed to make it viable. The bus service has a relatively modest subsidy cost from the Welsh Government, at ‘only’ £470k compared to a conservative estimate of £15m for a rail spur, not to mention the damage to the commuter services to/from Rhoose and Llantwit Major. At least the Vale line remains intact. If and when we get the half-hourly service it will finally start to be a good commuter service for our communities.

Examining the Airport Express bus and public transport in the Vale of Glamorgan

South Wales Echo have raised the issue of lack of demand for the new Airport Express bus service running from Cardiff to Cardiff Airport.

[…]The Echo rode the Airport Express – which runs every 20 minutes, seven days a week between 5am and 11.40pm – several times last week, right during the peak holiday season.

On half of the journeys we made the bus was empty, while on the other occasions our reporter travelled with just one or two passengers.

In total, out of our six journeys, only four people used the service. This equates to an average of 0.66 passengers per journey. […]

The bus service is less than a fortnight old. As local Assembly Member Eluned Parrott points out in the South Wales Echo piece, it was speedily introduced and has not been widely promoted as yet. Word is only just starting to get out about its existence. Holidaymakers using the Airport this month will have already made their local transport choices and plans. It’s therefore possibly a little premature to be assessing the long-term value of the bus to holidaymakers.

But while we at the campaign to Stop The Spur and Protect The Vale Line wish the Airport Express bus all the very best, this lack of demand is not a shock. The tough reality is that the Airport itself doesn’t generate the passenger numbers to merit any form of local public transport support. Research has shown that it is only new routes and services that are likely to revive the Airport.

In terms of usage, this bus is still a better bet than the rail spur – as proposed in the defunct LDP from the previous council administration. Imagine the gargantuan cost that that would have involved for these low levels of demand, levels which we predicted on this website in March 2012.

What does need support and resource – and we’ve been saying this for a while – are the local commuter services, which include buses and of course the Vale of Glamorgan line services. The commuter trains are already very full.

So when will the Vale line begin to run half-hourly services, we wonder?

August launch for express bus service from Cardiff to the Airport

Some good news from WalesOnline yesterday:

An express bus service running every 20 minutes almost round the clock between the city centre and Cardiff Airport is to launch next month, under new plans.

The Vale of Glamorgan council is inviting bus operators to bid to run the service, which comes four months after the Welsh Government’s £52m takeover of the Rhoose terminal.

It will be scheduled to run approximately every 20 minutes between 4am and midnight, 363 days a year, according to the contract notice.

The notice does not provide details on the exact route or the location of stops, but describes it as a “high profile, quality, limited stop, express local bus service”. […]

Read the story in full.

After some murmurings it appears this express bus is now confirmed. This looks like a sustainable good transport option which should make local travel more convenient for airport users.

Importantly for people who live in the Vale of Glamorgan it would also have no impact on Vale railway line services, which are already squeezed.

Cardiff Airport: Carwyn Jones to encourage new routes with operators?

This is from Sunday’s news:

The first minister has confirmed he has met commercial operators with an interest in buying a stake in the struggling Cardiff airport.

Carwyn Jones said a “medium to long term” strategy has been discussed with potential investors.

The Welsh government stepped in and bought the airport in March after passenger numbers slumped.

But Mr Jones told The Wales Report with Huw Edwards they wanted someone to share the running of the airport.

He said: “What we are looking at is for a commercial operator to come in to run the airport, perhaps come into partnership with us – maybe buy half of the airport if I can put it so crudely – so the money comes back quickly.

“There’s interest out there – I have met with large operators who have that interest.” […]

You can watch the interview with the First Minister at the beginning of The Wales Report on iPlayer.

Good relationships with operators are vital to the success of Cardiff Airport. The figures will only have a chance of dramatically picking up if there are a range of better routes on offer. Routes, routes, routes! To be clear, local fiddling with improvements to transport links will not boost the demand. We’ve stated this before on this website. Here’s a video clip explaining why:

And here’s a transcript of the video.

Express bus service from Cardiff Centre to Airport – from August

It’s superb to see this South Wales Evening Post report:

An express bus service from Cardiff to Cardiff Airport is due to get up and running in August, the First Minister has said.

A commitment to such a service was first set out by the Welsh Government in 2009, according to the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Lib Dem AM Eluned Parrott said she was pleased to hear the August start time but expressed disappointment at how long it had been on the cards.

She said 1.6 million passengers used Cardiff Airport in 2009, but last year that number dipped under the million mark. […]

You can read the full story here.

We haven’t been able to find any other references to this announcement yet, let alone any details of the frequency of services.

But if it does happen, this will more than make up for the withdrawal of the Cardiff Bus service on Sundays.

Indeed, considering all of the ideas that have been mooted for local transport to the airport, the express bus is a relatively inexpensive investment with benefits that will be seen almost straightaway.

Even with regular services, it won’t be a panacea for the airport’s problems. But it is a very good – and perhaps overdue – idea which will help to improve the experience of using Cardiff Airport for many.

Time to consider a Cardiff Airport express bus

It’s a pity the Sunday bus service to Cardiff Airport has been cancelled. Unfortunately, according to the piece, it seems that the operator Cardiff Bus were not able to get hold of Welsh Government to have discussions.

As part of efforts to revive the airport it’s the perfect time to consider the idea of an express bus from Cardiff city centre to the airport.

This could speedily transport not only bus passengers but also passengers who’ve arrived in Cardiff by train. It’s worth noting that Bristol Airport runs its own express bus known as the Flyer. According to the Bristol Airport website:

The journey time to the city centre is approximately 30 minutes, with services operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At peak times, buses depart up to every 10 minutes from key locations including Bristol Airport, Temple Meads and Bristol Bus Station.

It seems like a popular offering too. According to Bristol Airport’s magazine Your Airport:

Over 600,000 passengers used Bristol Airport’s Flyer bus in the 12 months to the end of August (2011) – the highest ever number of public transport journeys to and from the Airport in a rolling year.

An express bus service would make travel to the airport much more convenient for potential travellers. Local sustainable transport is among the factors which contribute to the competitiveness of the airport and something that the new management team would be well advised to look at.

Conservatives in Wales: better bus services to Cardiff Airport are needed

In case you missed it the Conservative party in Wales have published a report called A Blueprint For Cardiff Airport. WalesOnline ran a piece on Monday and if you’d like to delve right in you can read the Conservatives’ press release and the report itself in English (PDF) or in Welsh (PDF).

As well as some productive recommendations regarding routes, marketing and the devolution of Air Passenger Duty it was encouraging to see this:

[…] Cardiff Airport pales in comparison to its rivals in terms of access provision. With its own infrastructure restrictions in terms of road access, Bristol Airport provides an express bus from the centre of Bristol to the airport that operates 24 hours a day at intervals of ten minutes at peak time. The charges for this are relatively high with an adult return costing £11, but due to the high demand for the service and other alternatives being more costly, these charges are competitive. In 2012, 690,373 passengers used this service. Similarly Liverpool John Lennon Airport benefits from a designated bus service every half hour from Liverpool City Centre.

In the short term Cardiff Airport needs a more efficient and regular bus connection at least twice an hour at peak time from Cardiff City Centre. In addition, Greyhound coaches now offer a South Wales service to and from Bristol Airport which stops at Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff and Newport. No equivalent is present for Cardiff Airport. A similar service run by a private operator should be implemented for Cardiff Airport.

A regular Cardiff City Centre bus service is the first step to improving airport connectivity. This service would require a relatively substantial initial investment to cover start-up costs, but any investment would be to the benefit of the airport. Currently the Welsh Government subsidises £100,000 of the costs of the 905 link from Rhoose station to the airport. This is a route fewer than 2.5 miles. We believe that this investment would be better placed as part of a regular route from Cardiff City Centre, for example to increase the X91 route from every two hours to twice an hour.

Branding and promotion are also important in order to improve public awareness of the service. Currently 9% of passengers travel to Cardiff Airport by bus or coach. We would aim to double this figure under a more frequent bus option. […]

It would be superb to see better bus services, as also recommended by the Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Eluned Parrott. They’d be relatively easy and cheap to introduce too. The writer of the report seems a little less sure about rail ‘improvements’ finally concluding that:

[…] Whilst surface infrastructure investment around the airport is clearly important, road and rail are costly developments which we believe are best placed as long term investments. […]

As we’ve pointed out before, the costs of rail work are not just huge in financial and environmental terms but would have a negative impact on the ordinary rail services between the Vale and Cardiff. That’s assuming we’re talking about something resembling the rail spur in the Vale’s Local Development Plan of last year – which is now defunct anyway.

By the way Sunday’s edition of the Wales Report on BBC One with Huw Edwards had a fairly good item summarising the challenges of the Airport for the Welsh Government (item starts at 17 mins 30 secs on iPlayer) – making the sensible suggestion that investment in new routes to attract passengers is the main thing that’s needed.

Further discussions about Cardiff Airport

A big meeting organised by Western Gateway was held on Monday 20th May 2013, with the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, in attendance. We are still going over our notes on the meeting and will report on mentions and consequences for the railway spur or the Vale line soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of links to media reports on the meeting:

The BBC reports on proposals being put forward by Western Gateway to see Cardiff Airport as a long haul hub airport.

Wales Online also reports on claims for Cardiff Airport’s long haul potential and focuses on pressure to reduce Air Passenger Duty.

Cardiff airport isn’t the only air transport solution that has been discussed recently. The Institute of Welsh Affairs has released a report focussing on the potential for a Severnside airport to eventually replace both Cardiff and Bristol airport.

New chairman at Cardiff Airport calls for routes, which ones would you like?

This has been a historic week for the airport, now that the Welsh Government have bought it for £52m.

Today’s news is that the new chairman Lord Rowe-Beddoe, formerly of the well regarded Welsh Development Agency, has said that the airport need to ‘get cracking’ on attracting flights:

THE new chairman of Cardiff Airport today said they need to “get cracking” on attracting more airlines following its sale to the Welsh Government.

Lord Rowe-Beddoe, who was appointed chairman of the new airport board yesterday, said it was key to attract more airlines to Cardiff, potentially driving down flight prices.

He told BBC Radio Wales: “We will be looking at that and improving the customer experience with the facilities of the airport. And most of all getting airlines to use it again.” […]

He also has the challenge of retaining the routes and flights that are currently operating.

If you’re on Facebook we’re started a quick poll on the Stop The Spur page to survey which destinations you’d most like to see served. Go and vote for one!

The future of Cardiff Airport depends on air routes

For those who would like to see Cardiff Airport thrive BBC News Wales has a disheartening item today :

[…] Swiss carrier Helvetic is pulling out of Cardiff Airport, two years after the Welsh government spent £500,000 marketing Wales in Switzerland.

Helvetic started flying to Zurich from Cardiff in 2011, but had already dropped winter services after low demand and will not fly this summer. […]

BBC Radio Wales also covered the news of Helvetic’s withdrawal and there’s a audio clip from this morning.

The accompanying news that operator Vueling is to increase services to Malaga and Alicante is a small consolation. We also note the recent reports of a possible new route to Hawarden in north east Wales once work on the new terminal there is completed.

As we’ve maintained from the start and as Cardiff Airport themselves have stated, air routes are the MOST important factor in the success or failure of the Airport.

That is, tinkering with the railway in the Vale of Glamorgan through the adding of a spur is not the answer – and would be a source of other big problems as we’ve outlined in previous posts here. In particular, can the daily commuters who live in the Vale be reassured that the rail services – already squeezed – will not be threatened by the addition of a needless extra burden on the line? We’ll have to wait for the new draft LDP from the Council before knowing for sure.