Come fly with Croydon: How the expansion of Gatwick Airport may affect Croydon’s future

By - Friday 16th May, 2014

The potential addition of a second runway to Gatwick Airport, less than twenty miles from the centre of Croydon, could have far reaching economic effects

Gatwick Airport could expand with a new terminal and runway to the south of the existing airfield (on the left of this image).
Photo by Anders Sandberg, used under Creative Commons licence.

Next year, a decision will be made which could have considerable effects for the London Borough of Croydon and its town centre. Yes, the battle between Dave and co. will demand our undivided attention for the first few months of the year, but of considerable significance also is a report due to be published by the UK Airports Commission soon after the General Election. This report will make a recommendation towards whether a new runway at Heathrow Airport or Gatwick Airport, or an extension to an existing runway at the former, or a combination of the three is the most viable solution for the airport capacity crisis. ‘Boris Island’, a new airport hub in the Thames Estuary, is not being considered, with the cost projected to be at least five times that of the other options.

If Gatwick Airport is chosen to build a second runway to the south of the existing airport, and whilst making less headlines than expansion at Heathrow or in the Thames Estuary, this is quietly becoming the most feasible option (with funding set to come from private sources and having already received public backing by the Davies Commission), then the impact on Croydon could be considerable.

Let’s look at the negatives first. Croydon has already seen the loss of a showpiece business, Nestle, to Gatwick and should the airport become an even more significant focal point for British transport and logistics, than surely more would follow. Gatwick/Crawley has similarly good connectivity in rail and road terms (albeit a slightly longer journey time), but with the extra capacity to offer flexible office space for businesses. Oh, and an airport connecting companies with countries in every corner of the globe lies adjacent.

Focus on the positives however. The role of Croydon is changing, and by the time any new runway/terminal combination is built at Gatwick (with optimistic estimates suggesting completion by 2025), the landscape of the town will more than likely have changed considerably from the existing place. Westfield Croydon will have been open for the best part of a decade, several new residential towers and office conversions will have shot up in the town centre and the potential residual benefits may well have turned Croydon into a vibrant and exciting capital of the southeast of England. Maybe.

The town centre already boasts an impressive array of hotels, and this will surely increase with the greater demand among business travelers and bargain-seeking tourists alike

Of course, predicting the future is tough. But it is not beyond reason to suggest that Croydon’s role as London’s fourth business hub will have dampened by then. Is this necessarily a bad thing?

An expanded Gatwick Airport may well attract more businesses to the West Sussex/Surrey border. With Croydon handily placed almost directly in-between the airport and central London, and at the northern tip of the ‘Gatwick Diamond’, it may be that Croydon’s traditional role as a commuter suburb may extend in both directions. Indeed, Gatwick Airport’s own website for the promotion of a third runway suggests expansion will create 17,500 jobs across the region. Croydon is highlighted as a deprivation area which can capitalise on expansion.

Consider the theory of airport-led regeneration, put forward by Robert Freestone. Freestone suggests an ‘aerotropolis model’ which involves three principles:

  • “an airport city integrating aeronautical and non-aeronautical uses including business offices, hotels, and conference centre”
  • “a more extensive mix of precincts of warehouses, e-fulfilment centres, industrial and office parks, free trade zones, hotel and entertainment districts, all oriented to connecting motorway corridors”
  • “Residential districts, the only non-commercial land use, occupy the wedges between the motorways away from the main flight paths.”

There is an argument that expansion at Gatwick will not follow this pattern exactly (the paper was focused more an airports such as Singapore Changi, which have led to the development of entirely new districts), but use its existing infrastructure. Of these three principles therefore, Croydon stands to gain the most from the latter two.

If Gatwick can provide a more attractive, and most importantly, a more affordable area for people to live, then this could ease the pressure on Croydon

The town centre, and Purley Way, already boast an impressive array of hotels, with many prominent chains among them, and this will surely increase with the greater demand among business travelers and bargain-seeking tourists alike. More jobs and more money into the Croydon economic cycle. On top of this, Westfield will provide a further attraction for tourists, and with the costs of staying in central London prohibitive to many young tourists, a well connected Croydon town centre could prove to be very enticing indeed.

Croydon could also benefit significantly from the third principle; the establishment of a residential district by Gatwick. There is clearly a housing shortage in Croydon and throughout Greater London, and if Gatwick can provide a more attractive, and most importantly, a more affordable area for people to live, then this could ease the pressure on Croydon to provide new homes considerably. On top of this, the consistent swelling in house prices may be abated if accessible new homes were to be built twenty miles to the south.

There seems to be a good argument therefore for Croydonians, residents and business owners alike, to back Gatwick Airport’s bid to build a new runway and terminal. As mentioned, it is very difficult to predict the future, but having one – two even – of the world’s most important connection spots within an hour’s commute can be no bad thing.

How apt it would be for Croydon, arguably the home of the airport, to be the biggest beneficiary of London’s airport expansion.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • David Callam

    An interesting take on the borough housing crisis: let’s send all the ordinary people to live in affordable homes near Gatwick while we allow property speculators to develop overpriced apartments in the town centre.
    Is that now Croydon Conservative housing policy?

    • Tom Lickley

      Property developers rely on land values being right to build property on. If they are high, high % affordable housing tends to be unviable. You can’t expect any sane businessman to run his business at a loss. Values are what they are in the town centre, the market dictates it.

      There isn’t a single mention of the Conservatives in the entire article. The idea of housing being attracted to the airport is based on an academic theory. What gives you the idea that this is conservative housing policy? What do you define as an ‘ordinary’ person?

      • David Callam

        An ordinary person is someone in a household with an average income, someone being priced out of the Croydon property market by rich foreign investors who are actively being courted by your developer friends.
        You don’t mention the Tories by name, but your ideas chime very conveniently with those being advanced by senior Croydon Conservatives who have allowed Westfield and Hammerson to get away with a scandalously low proportion of affordable housing in the Whitgift redevelopment.

        • Tom Lickley

          Thanks for your comment. If you’d like to back up your claims I’d be happy to comment further – i.e. stats that show ‘ordinary’ (again, not a scientific term) people are being priced out as a direct cause of foreign investment.

          I’m happy to admit I read no thoughts on airports by any of the political parties in Croydon, because I wanted this to be a non-political piece but rather an academic piece. If it chimes with what the Conservative Party are saying then they’ve clearly looked into academic research to back up their claims. If you have a problem with what the side effects of airport regeneration are on nearby towns, feel free to email Robert Freestone who came up with the theory. People relocating from Croydon to Gatwick is merely an option, dictated by the lack of space left in Croydon or London in general – I don’t think it’s a policy.

          With regards to Westfield – that’s completely off the topic of the article, but as I’ve said before on other articles, Westfield are not a charity – they have a responsibility to their shareholders to make a profit, and from what I know they are already planning to contribute sums to many community cases around the borough. They will have had surveyors conduct development appraisals for the residential part of the scheme – which will have undergone a different process to the retail and leisure part – and come to the conclusion that the affordable homes they can provide is the maximum they can make whilst making a good profit. There isn’t a conspiracy – it’s what the spreadsheet tells them.

          • David Callam

            Thank you for an insightful response. I’ve already defined what I mean by ordinary people. If the present Croydon Council shares your views its no wonder they didn’t push Hammerson and Westfield any harder.

    • Stephen Giles

      Jolly good idea.

  • NeilB

    Whenever I try and book a flight there’s always more choice from Heathrow, when I would prefer to fly from Gatwick so if expanding Gatwick can fix that which I presume it would then then that’s all good. So my instinctive reaction is to back Gatwick against Heathrow.

  • Veronica Wilson

    Located 28 miles (45km) south of central London, Gatwick Airport is the second biggest airport in the UK and the world’s most-efficient single-runway airport. Serving approximately 36 million passengers a year, the airport is owned and operated by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and a group of its co-investors.